'Landmark' deal leaves much to be desired

While many have rushed to hail the recent agreement between Japan and South Korea to apparently settle the longstanding issue of wartime comfort women, I am sure many people, including myself, have mixed feelings ("Japan moves from past to future"; Wednesday).

First of all, it is hard to shake off the impression that this deal was made, not out of contrition on the part of Japan, but rather out of political expediency.

It is telling that this "landmark" deal was arrived at so suddenly and hastily, despite five decades of prior contention over the admission of guilt or lack thereof.

Faced with the apparent threat of a rising and hawkish Beijing, and diplomatic pressure from Washington to reconcile, Japan and South Korea have seemingly decided to sweep the comfort women issue under the rug, rather than give it the unreserved attention that it deserves.

Even then, the deal in its present form leaves much to be desired. For example, the compensation of 1 billion yen (S$11.7 million) is not even enough to buy the landing gear of a navy F-35C fighter jet.

The Japanese government has most notably refused to accept full legal responsibility in directly orchestrating the comfort women operation, and all the legal obligations such as reparations that such an admission would entail.

Instead, the deal merely concedes peripheral "involvement" rather than first-hand culpability.

The formal apology offered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, expressing remorse for wartime atrocities, is robbed of its impact when Japanese politicians continue to call at the Yasukuni Shrine, which memorialises some of the war criminals involved.

Above all, the deal completely fails to appease the very group that it was meant to benefit.

The surviving comfort women of South Korea have voiced their immense displeasure over the circumstances and terms of these diplomatic accords. Their demands deserve to be taken into consideration.

In the eyes of many who lived through World War II, or have been affected by its haunting legacy, Japan has allowed these outstanding issues to fester for far too long, and has done far too little to encourage healing and closure.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline ''Landmark' deal leaves much to be desired'. Print Edition | Subscribe