THE COMFORT WOMEN AGREEMENT: AN ANALYSIS OF THE MOTIVATIONS THAT LED TO PARK GEUN-HYE’S ACQUIESCENCE
Since normalization in 1965, bilateral relations between Japan and South Korea have been perennially mired in historical acrimony. However, in December 2015, the South Korean and Japanese Foreign Ministries consummated an unforeseen and sudden accord that sought to irreversibly resolve the comfort women issue. Why did President Park Geun-hye agree to finalize and pursue implementation of an agreement on comfort women with Japan, despite the longstanding discord between the two countries and widespread public opposition in South Korea to the resolution? I offer two complementary, alternative explanations in the form of security and economic prospects and deduce that case studies exhibiting strong external threats or economic opportunities have been insufficient in a vacuum to explain South Korean behavior vis-à-vis Japan. I argue that the absence of any ‘final’ reconciliation on historical issues in the past, despite these alternative explanations, demonstrates that the agreement was a manifestation of Park Geun-hye’s unique leadership. I posit that the ‘shadow’ of Park Chung-hee has made a lasting impression on her leadership because of her father’s strong and bold leadership style and the consequent role he played during Japanese-ROK normalization. Asian leaders affected by traumatic or otherwise substantial historical experiences will subsequently shape their political landscape and leadership styles in a way responsive to those experiences. Empirically, South Korean leadership has been influenced by the context of Japanese and Chinese leadership styles, codifying a permutation of both the purposefulness of the Japanese approach and the empyreal sense of virtue of the Chinese approach. This has produced a high-risk, high-reward style of leadership in South Korea. This observation is primarily corroborated by Park Chung-hee’s decision to strengthen South Korea, but under the recognition that Japan was a partner and model, not an enemy or dangerous rival. In this article, I contend that Park Geun-hye’s attitude and policies are a byproduct of the environs created and left by Park Chung-hee, making the comfort women agreement an outcome that could only have resulted from the unique experiences and mindset of Park Geun-hye.
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