With all the commotion and discussion about the comfort women issue that culminated in a last-minute 2015 deal between Seoul and Tokyo to put the issue behind them, few noticed that conspicuous in its absence was Pyongyang. There is a reason for that, but before explaining the North’s reticence, it is useful to understand the magnitude of what Kim Jong Un is declining to openly talk about.
By now, most people are at least casually aware that during World War II, the Imperial Japanese forced perhaps as many as 200,000 girls and young women into being sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. The overwhelming majority of those sex slaves were Korean, which of course refers to the number from the entire Korean Peninsula. But how many were from what is now North Korea?
COMFORT WOMEN FROM THE NORTH
It is, of course, impossible to get an exact number after so many years and because so many of the sex slaves have died with their shame, preferring to remain anonymous. Nonetheless, it is possible to arrive at an estimate to work with for the purposes of this essay.
Figures in which I have confidence are hard to come by, and the numbers cited vary considerably. Even so, the ratio of the Korean population in the southern portion of the peninsula to that of the northern portion seems to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 5:2 in the days just before WWII. By extrapolation, that would mean the number of women from the northern part of the Korean Peninsula that were forced into sexual slavery would have been perhaps as many as 50,000.
This brings us to the question as to why Pyongyang has not joined Seoul in pressing an appropriate settlement of the sex slave issue with Japan. The North would certainly welcome the money that Japan is offering South Korea. The answer lies in the behavior of North Korea itself.
North Korea has been quiet about Imperial Japan’s sex slaves because North Korea also has been involved in human trafficking
QUIET OUT OF PRUDENCE
North Korea has been quiet about Imperial Japan’s sex slaves because North Korea also has been involved in human trafficking – of a different sort: the kidnapping of Japanese citizens back in the late 1970s and early 1980s for various purposes.
According to the Japanese government’s Headquarters for the Abduction Issue report of 2011, at least 17 Japanese citizens were abducted by North Korean agents between September 1977 and July 1983. A significant number of other suspicious “disappearances” with possible links to North Korea are also under consideration, though nothing definitive has been determined. The purpose of most abductions was to facilitate travel by North Koreans using Japanese identities to South Korea, probably for spying and civil disruption purposes.
Strangely, Kim Jong Il himself admitted in 2002 that North Korean agents had indeed kidnapped Japanese citizens but claimed that the number was only 13. The other four were said to have never made it to North Korea. But that is a rather disingenuous explanation since it is entirely possible that those four unaccounted for died en route with their bodies being disposed of at sea.
Of the 13 abductees to which the North has confessed, five along with their families, were returned to Japan. The other eight were said to have died, but North Korean records are so sloppy as to be farcical and ultimately unbelievable. Due to floods, the North claimed that most graves of the deceased abductees were washed away and their remains could not be found. Worse, two sets of remains that were returned to Japan have been shown by DNA testing to be other than the kidnapped victims.
Further negotiations with North Korea over the kidnappings have been an abject failure. Between June and August of 2008, discussions between Japan and North Korea yielded an agreement that Pyongyang would renew its efforts to provide greater detail on the alleged deceased abductees and to make concerted efforts to track down any surviving kin in North Korea. To date, nothing has come of such talks.
In light of this, one can image Tokyo’s reaction if Pyongyang were to broach the issue of comfort women. Consequently, it is doubtful that the full number of the sex slave victims will ever be known. Equally saddening is that closure for the families of the Japanese abductees will likely not ever occur.
How ironic that both countries, guilty of their own crimes against people, will act so as to prevent the victims and their families in their respective countries from seeing justice done and achieving some measure of solace.
Feature image: Wikimedia commons
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