Saturday, February 29, 2020

Japan Can’t Handle the Coronavirus. Can It Host the Olympics?

How leaders’ sense of entitlement breeds indifference and incompetence. 

By Koichi Nakano, political scientist, Sophia University, 
New York Times 2/26/2020

The Japanese government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been staggeringly incompetent. Why, when so much is at stake for Japan, especially as the host country of the Olympics this summer?

The first infection in Japan was confirmed on Jan. 28. The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus to be “a public health emergency of international concern” on Jan. 30. But it took until Feb. 17 for the Health Ministry of Japan to even inform the public about when, where and how to contact government health care centers in case of a suspected infection. And it was only this Tuesday that the government finally adopted a “basic policy” for responding to the outbreak — which essentially boiled down to asking people to stay home. As of Wednesday, there were 847 confirmed cases of Covid-19 (and six deaths) in or just offshore of Japan.

Medical professionals are running short of face masks, disinfectant and test kits — and Japan is running short of medical professionals who can perform diagnostic tests. Yet so far Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has rejected the opposition’s demand to increase the budget currently under discussion in Parliament, or the Diet, to help tackle the outbreak; he has said it was premature to assume that the existing budget reserve will be insufficient.

And so the Japanese people have been told not to seek testing, nor bother visiting medical institutions unless their symptoms are severe and lasting. Mr. Abe has, in effect, outsourced the government’s containment efforts to the population itself, while the state concentrates limited resources on the severely ill and makes little effort to increase those resources. He might also have been thinking: With no test, there can be no rise in confirmed cases either.

The inadequacy of the government’s response was laid bare by the unmitigated epidemiological and public relations disaster that was the saga of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. After a 14-day quarantine, at least 634 passengers and crew members (out of a total of 3,645 people) were confirmed to have been infected aboard the ship. “We’re in a petri dish,” one passenger said. “It’s an experiment. We’re their guinea pigs.”

Since people started leaving the ship on Feb. 19, confirmed cases among them have been reported in the United States, Australia, Israel and Britain. Whereas those countries placed returning passengers under another 14-day period of isolation, Japan simply released all Japanese nationals from the boat — and at least one of them later tested positive for Covid-19. Twenty-three passengers, most of them Japanese, were also accidentally allowed to go without having undergone mandatory medical tests.

Astonishingly, the Japanese government released without a test more than 90 officials who boarded the ship during the quarantine, even though four had already tested positive — and this, according to one report, because of concern that “they won’t be able to fulfill their official duties if found positive.” The Health Ministry has since agreed to test 41 officials, but it still won’t test any medical professionals and quarantine officers who were on board, on grounds that “they had taken sufficient precautions” themselves.

As some observers have pointed out, a measure of denial and inertia is at play. The Japanese bureaucracy is notoriously dominated by a culture of “kotonakare shugi” (literally, “no-problem-ism”), which prioritizes stability and conformity, and shuns anything that might rock the institutional boat. Sound the alarm about an impending crisis and you might be blamed for causing it.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking during a special gathering in Tokyo to manage the coronavirus outbreak. He is said to be spending only minutes on average at meetings of a dedicated task force he presides. 

Mr. Abe’s cabinet set up a task force of ministers to handle the novel coronavirus on Jan. 30, but for many days that group was primarily focused on the situation unfolding in China, particularly on evacuating Japanese nationals from Wuhan, the city at the source of the initial outbreak. As recently as Feb. 13, Japan’s health minister was still saying that more information was necessary “from an epidemiological standpoint to say infections are growing across the country.” Two days later, though, he finally acknowledged that Japan has entered a “new phase” of the outbreak, and now was emphasizing the need to test people and treat the seriously ill. The day after that was the first time the task force convened its panel of experts to seek advice about the conditions in Japan and what measures should be taken.

Why is Mr. Abe — who is no stranger to an authoritarian style of leadership and readily breaks rules and conventions, as well as, arguably, the Constitution, to get his way — not doing more, or more decisively?

The answer might simply be: out of a lack of interest, personal and political. When the expert panel finally gathered on Feb. 16, Mr. Abe addressed it for just three minutes and then spent the rest of the day at home. The task force has met 13 times, but according to the opposition, the prime minister has been seen in attendance a mere 12 minutes on average.

The day after the first Japanese death from Covid-19 was reported, Mr. Abe was at a task force meeting for eight minutes, and then spent nearly three hours at dinner with the chairman and the president of Nikkei, the media organization. Shinjiro Koizumi, the environment minister and a rising star in the ruling party, skipped a task force meeting altogether to attend a New Year’s party with supporters from his constituency.

This is not the first time that Mr. Abe and his entourage display callous indifference in the face of an unfolding disaster. During the summer of 2018, the prime minister and his ruling-party colleagues came under fire for wining and dining in Tokyo during a bout of torrential rains in western Japan that ultimately killed more than 220 people. From the heavy snow that buried and paralyzed Yamanashi in central Japan in 2014 to Faxai and Hagibis, typhoons that devastated parts of eastern Japan last year, the Abe government has often been criticized for exerting far too little leadership to protect the people.

Once again, as Japan struggles to respond to Covid-19, Mr. Abe is largely invisible. Perhaps he — much like President Xi Jinping appears to be doing in China — wants to keep his distances from the crisis for fear of being held responsible for its consequences. But there is another explanation, both simpler and more systemic.

The Japanese government today is dominated by third- and fourth-generation descendants of long political dynasties, who inherited such important assets as name recognition, dedicated electoral machines, ample tax-exempt campaign funds and vast networks of cronies and special interest groups. Both the prime minister and the deputy prime minister, Taro Aso, are the grandchildren of former prime ministers; Mr. Koizumi, the environment minister, is the son of an ex-prime minister; the defense minister, Taro Kono, is the son of a former deputy prime minister.

Mr. Abe owes his premiership to the accident of birth rather than the democratic will of the Japanese people.

More than one-third of the lawmakers from his Liberal Democratic Party are hereditary politicians. Mr. Abe, who first was prime minister in 2006-7, won back the presidency of the L.D.P. in September 2012 — soon before the party won the election that propelled him to the premiership again — even though the preferences of rank-and-file party members placed him a distant second out of five candidates for the position. (He won because the views of members who are parliamentarians are weighted more.) His current cabinet of 19 ministers counts five sons or grandsons of former members of the Diet; another three have relatives who were lawmakers. The Japanese government is a privileged club of hereditary politicians and their opportunistic sycophants, and a comforting echo chamber.

Japan’s leaders are so out of touch with the lives of ordinary people that they seem genuinely uninterested in their plight. That, in turn, allows an entire bureaucracy to wallow in denial, even over a crisis like the coronavirus outbreak and just a few months away from the Olympics.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Monday in Washington February 24, 2020

CODE RED: A BOOK EVENT WITH E.J.DIONNE JR. 2/24, 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Brookings. Speakers: Author, E.J. Dionne, Jr., W. Averell Harriman Chair, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country; Alexandra Petri, Columnist, Washington Post

Click to order

PROGRAM TO FOCUS ON THE POWER OF PUBLIC DIPLOMACY: LEADING TODAY’S CHALLENGES. THE FIRST THREE FEET. 2/24, Noon-2:00pm. Sponsor: Public Diplomacy Association of America (PADD). Speaker: Jean Manes, Former Ambassador to El Salvador, Deputy to Commander and Foreign Affairs Advisor, U.S. Southern Command.

MEMORIALIZING THE COMFORT WOMEN OF ASIA. 2/24. Noon-1:30pm. Sponsor: Organization of Asian Studies at the Elliott School, GW. Speakers: Dr. Jungsil Lee, art historian, independent curator, and Adjunct Professor at Maryland Institute College of Art and George Washington University; Dr. Mike M. Mochizuki, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.

GLOBAL WARMING AND SMALL ISLAND STATES: THE CASE OF TIMOR-LESTE. 2/24, Noon-2:00pm. Sponsor: GW, Elliot School. Speaker: Isilio António de Fátima Coelho da Silva, Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (Timor-Leste) to the United States of America. 

A SECURITY THREAT PROFILE OF GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE. 2/24, 3:30-5:00pm. Sponsors: Center for Climate and Security and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Speakers: Craig Gannett, President of the Board, Henry M. Jackson Foundation; Hon. John Conger (moderator), Director, Center for Climate and Security; Former Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Comptroller); Kate Guy, Principal Investigator, Center for Climate and Security; University of Oxford; Hon. Sherri Goodman, Chair of the Board, the Council on Strategic Risks; Former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security); Dr. Rod Schoonover, CEO, Ecological Futures Group; Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service; Former Director of Environment and Natural Resources, National Intelligence Council; Ambassador (ret) Richard Kauzlarich, Co-Director of the Center for Energy Science and Policy, George Mason University; Former National Intelligence Officer for Europe; Former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, & Bosnia and Herzegovina; Christine Parthemore, CEO of the Council on Strategic Risks.

BREXIT IMPLEMENTATION: GERMAN AND EU INTERESTS IN NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE UK. 2/24, 4:00-5:15pm. Sponsor: American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS). Speaker: Paul Welfens, Jean Monnet Professor, University of Wuppertal. 

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Tuesday in Washington, February 18, 2020

Congress and the Asia Policy Calendar are in recess

CONTROLLING U.S. TECH EXPORTS TO CHINA: HOW TO GET IT RIGHT. 2/18, 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). Speakers: David Hanke, Partner, Arent Fox; John Neuffer, President and CEO, Semiconductor Industry Association; Moderator: Robert D. Atkinson, President, ITIF.

INTERPRETING CHINA’S ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN: COUNTERING BEIJING’S PLANS TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE COUNTRIES. 2/18, 11:30am-1:30pm. Sponsor: Hudson Institute. Speakers: Patrick Cronin, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute; Thomas Duesterberg, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute; Nicholas Lardy, Anthony M. Solomon Senior Fellow, Peterson Institute; John Lee, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute.

THE ORDEAL OF A UYGHUR COUNTY: CASE RECORDS OF MASS DETENTION. 2/18, 2:30-4:00pm. Sponsor: The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP). Speakers: Dr. Adrian Zenz, Non-resident Senior Fellow, China Studies, Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation; Abduweli Ayup, Uyghur linguist, Fellow, International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN); Dr. Elise Anderson, Senior Program Officer for Research and Advocacy, UHRP.

AMERICAN VALUES IN A TIME OF GLOBAL TRADE AND MODERN MONETARY POLICY. 2/18, 4:00-5:00pm. Sponsor: Institute of World Politics (IWP). Speaker: Frances Newton Stacy, Director, Portfolio Strategy at Optimal Capital.

WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE? PROSPECTS FOR THE INTERNATIONAL ORDER AFTER TRUMP. 2/18, 6:00-8:00pm. Sponsor Center for the Study of Statesmanship Catholic University. Speakers: author, Patrick Porter, Quincy Institute; author, Robert Kagan Brookings; Moderated by Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Monday in Washington, February 10, 2020

ASSESSING 30 YEARS OF PEACEFUL REVOLUTION. 2/10, Noon-2:00pm. Sponsor: American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS). Speakers: Piotr Wilczek, Polish Ambassador to the U.S.; Emily Haber, German Ambassador to the U.S.

FORGING THE ARMY’S FUTURE. 2/10, 1:00-2:30pm. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speaker: John M. Murray, Commanding General, Army Futures Command (AFC). 

A CONSENSUS PROPOSAL FOR A REVISED REGIONAL ORDER. 2/10, 1:30-3:00pm. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Alexandra Dienes, Research Associate, Regional Office for Cooperation and Peace in Europe, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung; Samuel Charap, Senior Political Scientist, RAND Corporation; Vasyl Filipchuk, Senior Adviser, International Center for Policy Studies; Yulia Nikitina, Associate Professor, World Politics and Research Fellow, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO); Paul Schwartz, Research Analyst, CNA; Jeff Mankoff, Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS.

CONTAINING THE CORONAVIRUS: CHALLENGES TO THWARTING THE OUTBREAK. 2/10, 1:30-3:30pm. Sponsor: Hudson. Speakers: Eric Brown, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute; Dr. Daniel Chertow, Head, Emerging Pathogens Section, National Institutes of Health; Dr. Julie Gerberding, Executive Vice President, Merck; Dr. William Karesh , Executive Vice President, EcoHealth Alliance; Joe Lieberman, Co-Chair, Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense; Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute. 

AMERICA RETHINKS CHINA: A CONVERSATION WITH JIAYANG FAN AND KAISER KUO. 2/10, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsor: Kissinger Institute, Wilson Center. Speakers: Jiayang Fan, Staff Writer, The New Yorker; Kaiser Kuo, Host of the Sinica Podcast and Editor-at-Large at

HOW CAN TAIWAN ASSURE ITS INNOVATION ADVANTAGE? 2/10, 2:00-3:30pm. Sponsor: Carnegie. Speakers: Alexa Lee, Senior Manager of Policy, Information Technology Industry Council; Evan A. Feigenbaum, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie. 

Friday, February 7, 2020

Shusenjo - Comfort Women Documentary Viewings

See the documentary Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue at the following universities:

🎥 February 10 - University of California, Berkeley 

🎥 February 13 - University of California, Santa Cruz

🎥 February 15 - University of Victoria

🎥 February 17 - University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

🎥 February 19 - University of Chicago

🎥 February 20 - University of Notre Dame

🎥 February 24 - Colby College

🎥 February 26 - University of Massachusetts, Amherst

🎥 February 27 - Smith College

🎥 February 28 - Amherst College

🎥 February 29 - Boston University, We Hope

🎥 March 2 - Harvard University

🎥 March 4 - Haverford College

🎥 March 9 - College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, TBA

🎥 March 11 - University of Texas, Austin

🎥 March 23 - Soka University

🎥 March 24 - California State University, Fullerton, TBA

🎥 March 25 - Loyola Marymount University

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Memorialising and Remembering

Truth-Telling, Victimhood, And Historical Amnesia

Australian Outlook, Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA), January 30 2020

By Caitlin O'Brien, Bachelor of Asian Studies/ Bachelor of Laws student at the Australian National University.

Why do some nations seem to be concerned with conflicts which have since ended? What is historical amnesia? Why is victimhood dangerous to national healing? A brief comparison of China, Finland and the Baltic States illustrates the necessary components for the reconciliation of historical injustice.

With extensive research completed on a nation’s conflict, the area of memory and remembering the conflict in contemporary society is a fascinating and intensely complex field. Broadly, nations would rather emphasise memories which evoke pride rather than those which admit guilt and express shame. Engrained within the difficulty of societies memorialising and remembering their history are the concepts of victimhood, reconciliation and truth. These three ideas are essential to the formula a nation must apply in order to successfully heal and progress from the trauma of historical injustice. This healing is vital if a nation’s identity is to be defined without the formative influence of historical injustice. “There cannot be reconciliation without truth” and essential to truth is accurate identification of perpetrators and victims. So often a victor’s history is told and remembered as fact, but, for societal fissures arising from warring parties to be amended, both sides’ history must be told and remembered.

Perpetuating individuals’ identification with victimhood obstructs reconciliation by delegating responsibility for the conflict and dismissing criticism from other groups. The major impediment to truth-telling and the following reconciliation, victimhood, pertains to the “white-washing” of the recollection of historical injustice which prevents an accurate collective memory being formed. Meaningful and long-term reconciliation requires “a changed understanding of the self and other that transcends the narrow roles of victim and perpetrator.”

“Victimhood” refers specifically to collective victimhood, which is “people’s sense of group-based victimisation by virtue of their identification with (that group), even without having been personally harmed.” “Reminding people of historical… victimisation (reduces) their… collective guilt for their group’s harmful actions.” An example of this is China where the perceived victimisation of Mao’s Cultural Revolution felt by all Chinese absolves the perpetrators from taking responsibility for the injustice they committed at the time. By delegating the perpetrating of the injustice to that of the “regime,” individuals are removed from blame and guilt. China’s acknowledgement of wrongdoing has not surpassed the blame of Mao and his Gang of Four. Until the issue of “victimhood,” where everyone suffered but no-one executed the violence of the Cultural Revolution, reconciliation remains elusive.

The complexity of this case stems from the fact that those who experienced the Revolution all see themselves as victims, not as the perpetrators. Arising from the unpredictable political climate at the time, where one day a person could be a victimiser and the next a victim, and vice versa, reconciliation has been unable to progress due to the ambiguity of who is at fault. Qui criticises this saying that “one can be a victim of the propaganda at the time as well as having the courage to admit that they participated in the cultural revolution as well.” An accurate collective history is not achieved as truth has not been discovered. Thus, the trauma of the Cultural Revolution remains an aspect of national identity as the injustice has not been relegated to the realm of memory.

Finland offers a contrary example where the Civil War of 1918 was unable to be reconciled until the official version of history admitted the crimes and violence of the victors, the White army which resulted in the losers, the Reds, being unable to identify with the public recollection of the war. Only in the nineties, following rapid modernisation in Finland which addressed class inequality, which was a precursor to the civil war, when the public began to discuss the war did individual memories contribute to the collective one, facilitating the progression of reconciliation. This changed the public narrative from the one-sided victorious White’s recollection, to one more representative of the experience of the Whites and Reds.

Public commemoration and memorialisation of both the Red and White experience of the war is central to reconciliation. In the decades following the War, only the Whites could memorialise and grieve their dead in a public setting. The repression felt by the Reds and their descendants prevented a peaceful, harmonious society from developing as deep-seated dissatisfaction felt by the Reds inhibited reconciliation. Through the collection of individual testimonies, encouraged by the new generation’s interest in the war, a revised collective memory emerged that incorporated the victorious narrative, and the darker, violent experience of the Reds and Whites. In 2008, 90 years after the civil war, the conflict was mediated through various forms of memory work and finally relegated the associated emotions surrounding to their original historical context.

Unlike Finland, the Baltic States are yet to reconcile with their historical injustice. The devastating annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union in 1939-40 has residual effects on contemporary society. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are unable to come to terms with the tens of thousands of deaths of their citizens at the hands of the Soviets primarily because of the historical amnesia surrounding it. Russia refuses to acknowledge that its occupation and annexation on the Baltic States was unlawful and classified as ‘foreign occupation’; Russia insists that it was a peaceful cooperation. Russian history books still educate people of this, which remains a perpetual thorn in the side of the Baltic States. Moscow’s historical amnesia of the Baltic States’ and its own role in occupation and annexation prevents the formation of a collective memory, obstructing the required unified collective memory. External historical amnesia coupled with particularly Estonia’s own national identity of victimhood surrounding the conflict known in Russia as the “Myth of 1939-40” impedes reconciliation.

“Civil wars in particular give rise to complex memory politics, as they often carve deep wounds into a society’s social memory”. The aforementioned cases were civil wars in the 20th century whose effects are being felt even now.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Monday in Washington, February 3, 2020

REAL-WORLD BLOCKCHAIN: SAFEGUARDING THE TRACEABILITY OF CRITICAL MATERIALS. 2/3, 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Stimson. Speakers: Dr. Philippe Thevoz is the Executive Vice-President eGovernment Systems at SICPA; Cindy Vestergaard, Director, Blockschain in Practice and Director, Nuclear Safeguards.

SUCCESS OR REGRESS? THE STATE OF HIV IN 2020. 2/3, 10:30am-12:15pm. Sponsor: CSIS. Speakers: Regan Hofmann, Director, a.i., U.S. Liaison Office, UNAIDS; Jennifer Kates, Senior Vice President and Director of Global Health & HIV Policy, Kaiser Family Foundation; Greg Millett, Vice President and Director of Public Policy, amfAR; Moderator: Sara M. Allinder, Executive Director and Senior Fellow, CSIS Global Health Policy Center.

’NEVER AGAIN’ HAS BECOME AGAIN AND AGAIN: RISE OF ANTISEMITISIM AND WHAT MUST BE DONE. 2/3, Noon-1:15pm. Sponsor: Defense Forum Foundation. Speaker: Rabbi Abraham Cooper, President and CEO, Center for Security Policy. Location: 2043 Rayburn House Office Building. 

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Repeating Past Mistakes in Japan-Korea Reconciliation

by Tom Le and Daphne Yang, Pomona College
Tokyo Review, January 30, 2020.

The Japan-South Korea reconciliation process continues to be hindered by the same three mistakes: a lack of victims’ voices, a lack of ambition, and a lack of long-term commitment. Several agreements, the first dating back to 1965, have failed to sustain positive relations between the two democracies. Only half a year ago, Japan and South Korea entered a costly trade war and considered ending the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA). According to a poll conducted before this latest spat, of those holding a negative view of the other side, approximately half of Japanese and three-quarters of Koreans do so because of the “history issue.”

The “Memory ⋅ Reconciliation ⋅ Future Foundation Act” proposed by South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang – the same Moon who was forced to apologize for demanding the Japanese emperor apologize to comfort women – is the most recent attempt to settle the legacy of Japanese colonization. The bill proposes that private corporations in South Korea and Japan would contribute to a foundation to pay victims of forced labor in accordance with the November 2018 South Korea Supreme Court rulings. It is likely to do little to improve relations between Japan and South Korea, far less settle the legacy of WWII finally or irreversibly.

Since relations between the two countries were normalized in the 1965 Treaty of Basic Relations, Japan has issued dozens of apologies and several agreements have been passed to address its wartime atrocities, most notably the 1993 Kono Statement, 1995 Asian Women’s Fund (AWF), 1995 Murayama Statement, and 2015 Comfort Women Agreement. The Memory ⋅ Reconciliation ⋅ Future Foundation Act repeats the same mistakes that not only prevented the 1995 AWF and 2015 Comfort Women from settling the “history problem” but will likely lead to the same backlash among both the publics of both nations once it fails.

The primary public complaint about the 2015 agreement was the lack of representation of comfort women; the new proposed bill repeats this mistake

First, the bill does not include forced laborers in the establishment or operation of the foundation. As outlined in a Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs report, the primary complaint of the public concerning the 2015 Comfort Women Agreement was the lack of representation of comfort women at the negotiating table. Immediately after the 2015 Agreement came into force, Koreans took to the streets in protest, and despondent comfort women in media-filled rooms railed at government officials for ignoring their voices. The new proposed bill has similarly been submitted to the Korean parliament without input from civil society. Moreover, the bill seeks to silence the voices of victims, who would give up their right to litigation if they accept a payout from the foundation. The proposed fund effectively splits the voice of around 1,000 victims involved in or planning to take legal action.

Second, like the 1995 AWF, funding for the foundation will be on a voluntary basis from public and private corporations. One of the main criticisms of the 1995 AWF was that it was not financed by Japanese taxes, and thus, could not be considered official compensation. Although donations may be a good reflection of what Japanese society today believes, by allowing and encouraging South Korean corporations and civilians to voluntarily donate as well, the bill removes the direct historical responsibility of the Japanese government and corporations from the reconciliation process.

Third, the Memory ⋅ Reconciliation ⋅ Future Foundation Act is billed as a “catch-all” proposal that will address all the issues concerning Japan’s wartime atrocities through financial compensation. The Korean public was furious at the 2015 Comfort Women Agreement because it sought to settle one single issue “finally” and “irreversibly.” One can expect a stronger reaction when it is the Korean government that is using similar language. In a poll conducted immediately after the act was announced, the majority of the South Korean public opposed the bill in every age group except for respondents over 60. According to a poll run by the Korea Institute of Research (commissioned by Moon Hee-sang’s office), 82.3% of South Korean citizens did not believe that Japanese companies would step up and provide the funds.

From Japan’s side, there is little incentive to reach an agreement that the other side can simply abandon so quickly

Government leaders have failed in the reconciliation process due to a combination of personal failings and circumstances beyond their control. Both governments have inherited decades of failed treaties and ineffectual apologies and face significant pressure to “win,” which may not actually involve an agreement or reconciliation. Yet, their solutions continue to be elite-driven, non-transparent, and short-sighted.

Following the collapse of the 2015 Comfort Women Agreement, “apology fatigue” was at an all-time high in Japan. There are no incentives to come to an agreement if the other side can choose to abandon the resulting agreement after less than a year. The legacies of WWII can only be addressed in an education-based and future-oriented agreement that includes victims at the negotiating table.

Moreover, inter-generational trauma requires solutions that last well beyond the date where foundation funds run dry. Beyond financial compensation, the governments should establish a foundation to educate the public on the decades-long reconciliation process that has been costly for both sides. This would mean Japan should offer a grand gesture to show remorse, possibly a memorial of its own acknowledging the victims – while for South Korea, it requires a reevaluation of the homespun narrative that Japan has never issued a “genuine” apology and an acceptance that it too has played a significant role in failing to come to terms with the past.


Tom Le is as an Assistant Professor of Politics at Pomona College, specializing in Japanese security policy, war memory and reconciliation, East Asia regionalism, and militarism norms. Le's work has been published by the Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs and the Journal of Asian Studies, as well as in popular outlets such as Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post, The Hill, and The Diplomat. Le received a PhD in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine and BAs in History and Political Science at the University of California, Davis. He is a research associate at the PRIME Institute at Meiji Gakuin University, a CSIS US-ROK NextGen Fellow, and an AFIHJ Next Generation Fellow. His work has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the Japan Foundation, The Korea Foundation, CION Trust, and JASSO.

Daphne Yang is a senior at Pomona College majoring in International Relations with an Economics minor. She studies East Asian security issues with a socioeconomic lens, and has published works in Diplomatic Courier, The Korea Times, and International Policy Digest.