Comfort women victims Lee Ok-sun and Kang Il-chool visited the White House of Washington D.C. during their visit to the U.S. and met Paulette Aniskoff, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement, on July 30. This information was made public on August 5.
As the While House and the Office of Public Engagement had an official meeting with comfort women victims, which was disclosed much later, the U.S. government might change its policy towards comfort women issues.
The U.S. has recognized these problems as a general human right issue, showing a serious approach, but active engagement of the government has been limited.
This was largely due to the diplomatic relationship with its ally Japan. Likewise, the U.S. government forbade 35 Japanese criminals related to comfort women issues from entering the U.S. in late 1990s, but did not disclose the list or their crimes.
However, as controversy over history, especially comfort women problems, has become major issues between Korea and Japan upon establishment of the Abe government, the atmosphere of Washington D.C. has changed.
As comfort women issues are closely related to human rights, one of the most fundamental integrities of American society, the U.S. cannot just overlook the recent controversies. In practical and strategic perspectives as well, a stable relationship between Korea and Japan is very critical for the U.S. to manage Northeast Asian strategies.
The fact that President Barack Obama criticized the comfort women issues as “terrible, egregious, and shocking” at a press conference during his visit to Korea last April shows that Washington D.C. actually changed its perspective.
This was harsher than former United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s criticism of “enforced sex slaves” against Japan at the Korea-US diplomatic ministers summit in March 2012.
Some congressmen are strongly supporting Korea these days. Mike Honda (Democrat, California) passed an appropriations bill forcing the Japanese government to abide by the “military comfort women resolution” last January, and the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services are encouraging the U.S. government to be actively engaged in solving comfort women problems to improve the relationship between Korea and Japan.
For example, Loreta Sanchez (Democrat, California) of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee publicly urged to “actively support to solve comfort women problems in order to build a strong alliance between Korea, the U.S., and Japan”.
The fact that the Korean government leads and requires public opinions internationally also affects the attitude of the U.S. Cho Yoon-sun, minister of gender equality and family, spoke about comfort women victim cases and urged apologies and responsible actions of the Japanese government at the U.N. General Assembly last October.
Accordingly, this meeting could verify the U.S. government’s stance and determination to solve the problems and push Japan to embark on immediate actions.
Yet, the U.S. government might have to consider its relationship with Japan and avoid excessive interference.
At the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing last July, Mark Lippert, the next U.S. Ambassador to Korea, expressed his determination to “encourage conversations between Korea and Japan,” but not to take a “mediation role.”
Anyway, the fact that the U.S. government allowed this meeting might deliver the message to resolve comfort women issues as soon as possible. Thus, how the Japanese government reacts is very important. Influences especially on chief-level negotiations for Korea-Japan comfort women issues are spotlighted.