Landmark ‘Comfort Women’ Deal Removes Barrier to Harmony: Tokyo and Seoul Look Forward

Bilateral relations in Northeast Asia are characterised by mistrust, resentment and disputed sovereignty largely as a result of history. China, Japan and South Korea, in particular, have the potential to form a powerful bloc to preserve the security of the region, stimulate economic growth and improve the fortunes of neighbouring states. However, such a potential has not been realised – not even been attempted to be realised – because of historical grievances between the nations.

Korean 'comfort women' liberated at the end of WWII
Korean ‘comfort women’ liberated at the end of WWII

One of the main issues affecting Japan-South Korea relations is the Imperial Army’s use of ‘comfort women’ during WWII. These women – mainly Korean but also hailing from China and several Southeast Asian nations – were sex slaves, forced to travel with Army units during the war, where they would be made to have sex with multiple partners on a daily basis.

Whilst an awful system in itself, what has really infuriated the South Koreans in the years since 1945 is Japan’s apparent refusal to offer a comprehensive apology for the practice, with several high-ranking officials even disputing its existence. For the Koreans, this lack of acknowledgement and remorse is comparable with Jean-Marie Le Pen’s claim that the Holocaust was merely a ‘detail of history’.

As with its wartime atrocities in general, Japan has previously apologised for its use of ‘comfort women’, most notably Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s 1993 apology and that of his successor Tomiichi Murayama in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the war’s conclusion. Perhaps significantly, however, neither of these Prime Ministers belonged to the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has dominated post-WWII Japanese politics and some of whose leaders have taken a decidedly revisionist approach to history.

Former PM Murayama has long called on Shinzo Abe to honour and re-pledge his 1995 apology
Former PM Murayama has long called on Shinzo Abe to honour and re-pledge his 1995 apology

Japan has now apologised again, this time under the reign of Shinzo Abe, an LDP stalwart and a man accused of denying the true role of ‘comfort women’ in the past. Along with the promise of implementing a 1bn yen fund for the remaining surviving women – perhaps only 46 out of a possible 200,000 – Japan has accepted ‘deep responsibility’ for the practice, signalling its intent to draw a line under the issue for good. South Korea, for its part, has agreed to do likewise, provided that Tokyo makes good on its promises.

Whilst other historic disputes remain between the two nations – such as Japan’s colonial rule in Korea, history textbook revisionism on both sides, and territorial disputes – this is a crucial step to normalising relations and perhaps a sign that both Tokyo and Seoul are keen to form a bulwark (however tenuous) against an increasingly assertive neighbour in China.

Most importantly, it provides some closure for the few surviving women forced to endure some of the most painful and humiliating atrocities of a war littered with heinous crimes. It is hoped that both sides honour this historic agreement and finally start facing a future that will bring its own challenges and opportunities.

Will this latest pledge bring closure for the last 'comfort women' of South Korea?
Will this latest pledge bring closure for the last ‘comfort women’ of South Korea?

#ZumaMustFall: Time for South African President to Go; But What Next?

Finally thousands of South Africans have taken to the streets to demand the ousting of their inept, corrupt and incorrigible President Jacob Zuma. It has taken some of the grossest economic mismanagement in African history – yes it is really that bad – for the popular tide to turn completely against the former African National Congress (ANC) warrior, his recent juggling of Finance Ministers the final straw in a tale of woe that has seen unemployment reach 25%.

South Africans rally against Zuma
South Africans rally against Zuma

Despite the popular discontent, Zuma retains support within the ANC itself. This is hardly surprising given that his rule has been characterised by cronyism and bribery, with his closest allies unlikely to desert a man who provides them with an income completely incompatible with their limited capabilities.

Just a few months ago I blogged about the rising popularity of Julius Malema and his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who appear to offer black South Africans the only real alternative – albeit one based on mindless logic and dubious promises – to the decaying ANC.

Put simply, the lives of ordinary South Africans, regardless of race, have degraded drastically since Apartheid ended. Reverse discrimination has failed and the ANC has proved itself incapable of maintaining the legitimacy of South Africa on the international stage, despite the institutional and economic base put in place by its white predecessors.

Zuma's tenure has coincided with a decrease in international respect for South Africa
Zuma’s tenure has coincided with a decrease in international respect for South Africa

Malema must be laughing and white South Africans must be in despair, along with millions of others who continue their struggles against poverty, AIDS, lack of education, shortage of quality housing and security alone.

Below is a reminder of my previous post, with Malema’s rise now only likely to hasten, particularly if the ANC stubbornly supports its moronic and corrupt patron President.

ANC Failures Hasten Malema Rise: White South Africans Prepare for Exodus

Julius Malema drew thousands of supporters to his Economic Freedom March earlier this week, continuing his incision into the support of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) whose faltering performance, corrupt tendencies and listless leadership have led to widespread protests across the country.

Malema at the Economic Freedom March
Malema at the Economic Freedom March

Whatever the faults of the ANC – and there are many within the Jacob Zuma administration – growing support for Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is an alarming development, particularly if you happen to be a white South African. Malema has made no secret of his desire to completely disenfranchise the white population in favour of the blacks, advocating a raft of ridiculous economic policies likely to send South Africa back to the Dark Ages.

Left-wing struggles are not new in South Africa. In 1919, the Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) launched in Cape Town to provide a radical political vehicle for labour reform (regardless of race) and they were joined in 1921 by the South African Communist Party (SACP). These two groups provided a more effective opposition to white minority rule than the ANC did during the early days of protest.

The ICU pursued a populist mandate which neglected effective labour organisation
The ICU pursued a populist mandate which neglected effective labour organisation

Although the ICU was a short-lived organisation, the SACP would later align itself with the ANC as one of the foremost opponent groups of Apartheid. Indeed, the SACP actively encouraged and organised some of the earliest anti-pass book protests and bus boycotts in South African cities and townships during World War Two (WWII).

Of course the ANC would later be painted as communists by the ruling National Party (NP) in an attempt to retain the political backing, and economic support, of their Western allies. There was certainly a conflation of ideas and endeavour between the ANC and SACP. Indeed, longtime SACP leader Joe Slovo was one of the most prominent anti-Apartheid campaigners and a commander of the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe wing of the ANC.

Through a combination of militant violence, international lobbying and political and social persuasion, these ‘left-wing’ groups helped bring about the fall of Apartheid.

These groups were, however, fighting against an unjust and repressive political system. Malema and his EFF seek to topple the democratically-elected ANC so that they can use the levers of power to punish the whites. Should the EFF ever displace the ANC then there will be a repeat of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in South Africa.

Robert Mugabe has allowed blacks to seize white farms in Zimbabwe, destroying productivity in the process
Robert Mugabe has allowed blacks to seize white farms in Zimbabwe, destroying productivity in the process

The ANC has performed a wholly inadequate role in the post-Apartheid era. In a desperate attempt to reverse the racial discrimination of the Apartheid era, they have progressed too swiftly and with tragic results. Few incentives remain for white businessmen and farmers to stay in the country and yet they are the ones with the experience, capital and organisation to provide a sound economic basis for the country. The blacks, because of their stifled development under Apartheid, do not have the same economic capacity and this scenario will not improve if they are simply handed rewards without work (something Malema is keen to extend beyond the current ANC policy).

City centres have become slums and impoverishment amongst the black population has increased under the ANC’s watch. Why? Because its leaders are more interested in lining their own pockets and protecting their own business and political interests than improving the lot of their people, a sad fact common across the African continent.

The once-trendy district of Hillbrow in Johannesburg is now a crime-ridden slum
The once-trendy district of Hillbrow in Johannesburg is now a crime-ridden slum

It is therefore understandable that Malema and his populist rhetoric have struck a chord with poor black South Africans. Undoubtedly, should he ever attain political office he is likely to go the same way as Jacob Zuma and all those other self-serving ‘freedom fighters’ he claims to revile.

More worryingly, however, is the fact that he will plunge South Africa into anarchy, sealing its economic fate and driving out the remaining few whites who have resisted the racist policies and declining opportunities of the past few years to contribute what they can to the country that they love.

Wilders Surges on Islamic Concerns: Europe Braced for Change

A national poll in the Netherlands has named Geert Wilders as the country’s most popular politician for a third year running, on this occasion winning by a comfortable margin. The controversial anti-Islamisation leader of the Party for Freedom has experienced a growth in support since the rise of ISIS, the mass migration of Middle Eastern refugees into the EU, and the Paris terror attacks have shaken the foundations of European security.

The flamboyant Wilders is one of Europe's most recognisable politicians
The flamboyant Wilders is one of Europe’s most recognisable politicians

His uncompromising and often vitriolic attacks on Muslims have led him to be detested in some quarters, whilst provoking admiration in other citizens feeling increasingly uneasy in the modern world. Wilders recently went so far as to claim that a national study had shown that 11% of Dutch Muslims supported violence, a startling figure given that most European governments attribute domestic jihadist activity to a tiny minority of Islamic followers.

An admirer of Donald Trump’s proposal to temporarily halt all Muslim immigration, Wilders is taking advantage of the legitimate concerns of much of the European population. Whilst he and other right-wing proponents may have overblown the ‘Muslim threat’ for political purposes, there is no doubt that the migration crisis and the increasing prevalence and potential of domestic Islamic terrorism need to be addressed.

Approximately 1 million Muslims now live in the Netherlands - not all of them peacefully
Approximately 1 million Muslims now live in the Netherlands – not all of them peacefully

Whilst there are undoubtedly logistical difficulties of responding to mass illegal immigration from the Middle East and Africa – difficulties that cannot be solved by simply building defensive walls along national borders – the potential for terrorists to masquerade as refugees and seek asylum in Europe must not be overlooked. The recent EU deal with Turkey to help tackle the migration crisis closer to the warzones of the Middle East is unlikely to have an immediate impact and the sincerity of the Turks’ promise to enforce stricter controls on migrant flows is hard to confirm.

Support for the far right might be increasing in the Netherlands – just as it is across Europe – but for Wilders to succeed, the Dutch will have to overlook their troubled relationship with nationalistic politics. In particular, memories of collaboration with the occupying Nazi regime during World War Two and the rise of Dutch fascism will be too much to ignore for some tempted by Wilders’ rhetoric.

The Dutch National Socialist Movement (NSB) emerged in the 1930s as a parallel organisation to the Nazis in Germany. Whilst never achieving anywhere near the electoral support of the Nazis, the NSB was crucial in fostering an atmosphere of resignation and acceptance of an eventual German invasion. When the Nazis did assume control of the Netherlands, many citizens were content to accept life under the new flag.

Having hailed the Nazis as the saviours of Europe, NSB leader Anton Mussert was ultimately rewarded by Adolf Hitler by being made Leader of the Dutch People in December 1942. Mussert helped mastermind the incarceration and deportation of Dutch Jews, supported a Dutch SS and generally subscribed to the fascist tenets of his overlords in Berlin.

Mussert and Hitler
Mussert and Hitler

As with the French – and especially their collaborationist Vichy Regime – accusations flew wildly after the war concluded about who had actively resisted the Nazis in the Netherlands, who had kept quiet, and who had willingly supported the fascist regime. The inconclusive evidence about the level of collaboration in both the Netherlands and France has cast an awkward shadow over their recent histories and helped prevent a resurrection of mass public support for right-wing politics.

Are times about to change though? The National Front of France, under Marine le Pen, has become a genuine contender for leadership of the country after the 2017 presidential elections. Recent regional elections even saw the National Front’s rivals siding with one another in an attempt to dissuade voters from deserting the centre. 

The Dutch, unlike the French, have so far been spared an act of mass terrorism on their doorsteps. What would a similar event – awful though it is to imagine – provoke in the minds of the population? Would it give Wilders the platform he needs to cast off the shackles of history and evolve from political also-ran to the arbiter of government?

For some this might be a frightening prospect; for others, a potential safeguard for the life to which they have become accustomed. Either way, the times are changing and the Islamic threat is growing. Somewhere, at sometime, something will have to give.