Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Does The Seoul Comfort Women Agreement Exist?

A technical question...but one with implications as to the conduct of foreign policy and the behavior of elites in elective democracies: does the Seoul agreement "finally and irreversibly" ending the comfort women dispute between Japan and the Republic of Korea actually exist?

By "exist" I mean in the way an English speaker would understand an agreement existing, as in "Is there an actual text on paper, parchment, stone tablet or pdf which both sides have signed -- with a pen, a brush, a mouse or a stamp? Is there some object, real or virtual, with the names of representatives of both sides on it?"

And if so, can we see it?

My current thinking is that there is no actual, signed agreement between the two nations containing the details announced at the press conference on December 28. The lack of a signed agreement would explain some of the odder bits of Monday's announcement, including

- why the announcement was not accompanied by a printout (Link)

- why the Japanese government promises in section 1(iii) of the announcement to do what it said it would do in sections 1(i) and 1(ii), with the government of the ROK repeating the assumption ("on the premise that the Government of Japan will steadily implement the measures specified in 1. (1) (ii)above") in 2(i). Under normal circumstances governments making declarations do not immediately double check themselves.

- why a Japanese embassy official in Washington has said the current agreement would not need to be approved by the Cabinet and

- last but not least that stunning adverb "approximately" in the English language version of the agreement, as in "approximately 1 billion yen". In the Japanese version, the numeral is modified not once but twice (omune ni 10 oku en teido - "roughly in the vicinity of 1 billion yen") -- not your everyday binding agreement figure of speech, to put it mildly.

Of course, that the Japanese press describes Monday's announcement as introducing to the world a go'i ( 合意 - "our meanings are in sync") rather than a kyotei (協定 - "formal agreement") should be probably be seen as prima facie evidence there is no document underpinning this supposed final and irreversible settlement.

If no actual document exists perhaps one will be produced later, possibly as a requirement of legalization of the transfer of "approximately one billion yen" from the government of Japan to a special account created by the government of the ROK.

I hope I am wrong in all this: I hope there is an actual signed agreement. I very much like signed agreements when the goal is to end a bitter, longstanding dispute.

However, if there is not one and the two countries end their animosity on the issue with proper restitution and respect being paid to the women, I am not going to niggle about a technicality.

Not today at least.

1 comment:

JHR said...

Does it matter if there isn't a written agreement? Legally, the matter was already settled decades ago. The problem is therefore simply a matter of how both countries are talking about it and using it for political purposes, and this isn't something that can be resolved with a treaty.

The important thing here is simply having Korea announce in advance that that it will consider the issue to be settled if Japan fulfills certain conditions precedent. This will leave the enforcement of the agreement to public opinion, which I think may actually make it more credible after the whole situation with the 1965 treaty.