By Perry Diaz
Seventy years after the end of World War II, the shameful act of sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army has finally come to a “negotiated” end between Japan and South Korea in what many believe was driven by the geopolitical realities in the volatile East Asia.
The Japan-South Korea détente began when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on April 29, 2015. Although he did not address the issue of “comfort women” in his speech, he expressed “deep remorse” for Japan’s wartime conduct, saying that armed conflicts have always made women suffer the most. He said that he upholds previous Japanese apologies, including a 1995 landmark statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama who said on the occasion of the establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund: “The problem of the so-called wartime comfort women is one such scar, which, with the involvement of the Japanese military forces of the time, seriously stained the honor and dignity of many women. This is entirely inexcusable. I offer my profound apology to all those who, as wartime comfort women, suffered emotional and physical wounds that can never be closed.”
But it was Abe’s statement on August 14, 2015, during the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in 1945, that he directly addressed what the “comfort women” had suffered, saying: “On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences.” And he promised: “We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honor of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women’s injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women’s human rights are not infringed upon.”
Since then, things began to move… fast. And on December 28, 2015, an “unthinkable” event — as an expert on Japan-South Korea relations calls it –- happened: South Korea and Japan signed a bilateral agreement to end the issue of “comfort women,” once and for all. Yes, nobody would have imagined that the wedge that had divided Japan and South Korea for 70 years would be removed at the strike of a lighting bolt, which makes one wonder: How did it happen?
As it turned out, it did not happen overnight. Work had been going on – quietly — for sometime. And while China was preoccupied with building artificial islands in the South China Sea, U.S. President Barack Obama was involved in a trilateral dialogue with Prime Minister Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye in the past two years. Obama had been trying to bring the U.S.’s two Asian allies together and forge a counterbalance to an increasingly aggressive China and a trigger-happy North Korea. And the only way to keep the two communist allies in check is to establish a strong defensive line along the First Island Chain, which would prevent China from breaking out into the Western Pacific and beyond. And with the newly constructed Jeju Naval Base on South Korea’s southernmost island group, which is as close as it could get to China, its geostrategic location in the East China Sea couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
Two Koreas at war
On January 6, 2016, North Korea announced that she detonated a hydrogen bomb. However, international experts on thermonuclear devices have doubts that it was indeed a hydrogen bomb. But regardless whether an H-bomb was tested or not, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un’s propensity for threatening to nuke the U.S., South Korea and Japan could be unnerving, only because nobody knows what goes on in his mind.
Two days later, North Korea released a video showing a successful test of a ballistic missile launched from a submarine.
With more than five million troops, including reserves, North Korea could easily invade South Korea. Defending South Korea are 600,000 active frontline personnel, 2.9 million reserves, and 28,000 American troops. And since the U.S. and Japan have a military defense treaty, Japan would most likely go to war against North Korea, too. But war in the Korean peninsula wouldn’t probably be limited to conventional warfare. North Korea might use nuclear bombs if she already has them.
Japan’s nuclear stockpile
But what is interesting to note is that Japan, who doesn’t possess nuclear weapons at this time, could produce them if she wanted to. She has 47 metric tons of weapons-usable plutonium, which is enough to make nearly 6,000 warheads like the one the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki. This huge cache was the by-product from reprocessing of spent uranium and plutonium used in Japan’s nuclear plants, which makes one wonder: Would Japan make nuclear warheads and use them if she were threatened with nuclear extinction by North Korea? Well, your guess is as good as mine. But I think your guess is: Yes, she would. Who wouldn’t?
And this begs the question: Where would China be in this fracas? In my opinion, China wouldn’t come to the assistance of North Korea if war broke out between the two Koreas. North Korea has been causing China a lot of headaches for her adventurism against the U.S., South Korea and Japan. And Chinese President Xi Jinping knows that going to war with the U.S. is a no-win situation or, worse, a lose-lose situation. There is so much future for China to become the number one economic superpower within a decade. But Xi knows that China is not yet at par with the U.S. militarily… and, probably, never will be. And if China goes to war, all the economic progress she made in the past three decades would be wasted and turn the country into a nuclear wasteland.
So, what would happen if South Korea beats North Korea with the help of the U.S. and Japan, and without interference from China? In all likelihood, the two Koreas would be reunited under a South Korean democratic regime. And if China plays her cards well, she could pull a reunited Korea away from America’s security shield and follow an independent course with strong economic ties to China. As a consequence, the U.S. influence over a reunited Korea could diminish drastically. But would the U.S. allow that to happen? Not if she has to have it her way.
Geopolitics could always come into play again in the future, just like how it was played up in dealing with the issue of comfort women. Or shouldn’t it be the other way around; that is, how the comfort women were played up in dealing with geopolitical issues?