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Comfort Women Agitators as Agents of the North

While Pyongyang foments rancor in the comfort women issue, "The path to friendship between Japan and South Korea lies in the facts" ーProfessor Tsutomu Nishioka.



comfort women
A group of South Korean university students join the protest at the comfort women statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in July 2020. (© Kyodo)

Journalist Sunjong Bak explores the pro-North sympathies and ties to Pyongyang of several groups and individuals in his home country in the first part of this series. In this second part, Bak continues his expose of the pro-Pyongyang activities of comfort women agitators in South Korea. 

Read part 1: Comfort Women Protests a Sign of North Korea's Lurking Presence

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A comfort woman statue is placed on the seat of a bus in Seoul, South Korea on August 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-Joon, File)

Last part

Agents of North Korea 

In its previous incarnation, the South Korean Supreme Court affirmed in October 2016 that Korean Solidarity is an "advantageous-to-the-enemy interest group" under the terms of the National Security Act. In this case, according to South Korean judicial precedent, an "advantageous to-the-enemy interest group " is: 

[A]n enduring independent association formed by a specific number of persons for the purpose of praising, encouraging, or promoting the activities of anti-state entities [meaning North Korea], sympathizing with them or propagating or inciting uprisings against the South Korean government. 

Three people were indicted in the Korean Solidarity case. They were Kim Hye-yeong, Lee Mi Sook, and Lee Sang Hoon. Moreover, the latter is both Korean Solidarity co-chair and director of the 21st Century Korean Institute. 

In addition to being charged with having formed an advantageous-to-the-enemy interest group and glorifying, supporting, and promoting North Korea's activities, the three were also suspected of having sent Hwang Hye-ro to the North when Chairman Kim Jong-Il died in 2011. 

The Central Region Party Incident

Of the three, Lee Mi Sook is known for his involvement in the so-called Central Region Party (Ethnic-National Liberation Patriotic Front) Incident in 1992. This is what happened.


Under the leadership of North Korean spy Ri Seon-sil, blue and white collar factory workers were organized into armed forces. Then, as North Korean agents, they infiltrated academic, labor, media, and cultural circles. Operatives received orders from the North and reported back to Pyongyang. In addition, among other tasks, the North Korean agents produced pamphlets idolizing the Kim dynasty

Sixty-two people were reportedly arrested by South Korean counterintelligence authorities in the 1992 incident. That made it the largest public security incident since the Republic of Korea's founding. 

The successor organization to Korean Solidarity, the group behind these incidents, is the People 's Democracy Party (PDP). The very same PDP members have been involved in the campaign to prevent the removal of the comfort woman statue. 

These are facts. 

A Year After Kanemaru's North Korean Mission 

The testimonials of the late Kim Hak-sun on August 14, 1991, triggered the mutation of the so-called comfort women issue into a full-fledged diplomatic problem between Japan and South Korea. At the time, Takashi Uemura was then working as a reporter for the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. He reported on Kim's testimonial in which she claimed to have been forced to work as a comfort woman. 

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Former Asahi Shimbun reporter Takashi Uemura spoke at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan (FCCJ) in December 2018. (© Sankei)

The year 1991 was highly significant. A year earlier, in September 1990, a Japanese delegation visited Pyongyang   bearing a personal letter from then Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu. It was a high-level delegation, including Liberal Democratic Party leader Shin Kanemaru and Socialist Party member Makoto Tanabe. 

Secretary Kim Yong-sun of the Workers' Party of Korea, who was overseeing the country's operations against South Korea, met with the delegation from Japan. Subsequently, a joint statement by the three officials set the stage for the initiation of discussions on the normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea. 

Given the international political exchanges at the time, it is reasonable to interpret that Kim Hak-sun gave her testimonial when she did as a ploy by North Korea. 

The North's goal would have been to acquire moral leverage over Japan and thereby secure an advantage in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two. 


More Key Figures Linked to North Korea

Furthermore, Kim Sam-seok, the husband of National Assembly member and former head of the KCJ Yoon Mee Hyang, was convicted of espionage in 1994. In addition, his sister was convicted along with him. And both are strongly suspected of being Pyongyang loyalists. 

Dr Tetsuo Arima comfort women
Former Korean Council leader Yoon Mee Hyang (center) with alleged comfort women Lee Yong Soo (right) and Moon Phil Gi (left). Taken in 2002 at Pyongyang's Juche Tower. North Korea. (©Yoon Mee Hyang's Facebook post)

It is logical to infer that North Korea is leading the comfort women issue. Meanwhile, the fact is that key figures who are or have been deeply involved in the issue are all connected to Pyongyang in some capacity. That includes the Anti-Japanese Action group,

The 'Two-Strap' Tactic 

North Korea's official strategy for the communist conversion of the Korean peninsula, the "gat geun" tactic, is infamous. The traditional Korean hat, the gat, has two strings (geun). Metaphorically, one of these strings represents the United States and the other Japan. Meanwhile, the hat itself represents the security of South Korea. Of course, if either one of the two strings is cut, the hat will be blown away in the wind. 

Needless to say, the relatively weaker string is, of course, Japan. 

In South Korea, with its colonial past, people are taught to perceive Japan with animosity. It is all too easy to stoke hostility toward Japan. This is because the left-wing-dominated field of history education focuses on the negative aspects of the colonial period. 

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Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un promote unity in September 2018. (Pyongyang Press Corps Pool via AP, File)

It is my conclusion that the comfort women issue may reasonably be understood as having been instigated by North Korea. Likewise, it aimed to create favorable conditions for itself in advance of talks on establishing diplomatic relations with Japan. This is why I believe that the comfort women issue is now used to pit the Japanese and South Korean peoples against each other. 

Peace and Friendship Rooted In Historical Fact 

In the words of Reitaku University professor Tsutomu Nishioka, "The path to friendship between Japan and South Korea lies in the facts." 

One day the people of both nations, particularly South Korea, will wake up to the facts of the comfort women issue. Only then can we look back over the past century of Japan-South Korea relations and welcome the century to come.

(A version of this article originally appeared in Japanese in the February 2023 issue of Seiron monthly magazine. (Print only).) 



Author: Sunjong Bak