Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye understand something needs to be done about the “comfort women” issue, but they still have a way to go. It is unlikely that the Dec. 28 “final and irreversible resolution” to issues surrounding the women who worked in wartime brothels at the Japanese military’s behest will prove to be much of a resolution at all. Indeed, it could easily unravel and become another bone of contention and trigger mutual recriminations.

Prospects would have been better if they had negotiated a more substantive agreement and not missed the opportunity to advance reconciliation. This would require launching a process and dialogue rather than disingenuously declaring closure concerning a past that cannot be neatly exorcised by fiat. Japan is shifting state “ownership” of this problem to South Korea, just as it tried to do back in 1965 with the normalization treaty, and it is likely to be disappointed yet again, because democracy has politicized history in South Korea.

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