Coalition Building and the Formation of a Regional Solidarity Network in East Asia: The Case of the "Comfort Women" Movement
Sociology University of Heidelberg Hamburg, Germany
On the case of the so-called "comfort women" movement, this presentation examines how the interplay of global and local forces led to the formation of a regional solidarity network in East Asia. The comfort women movement struggles for the moral and financial compensation of an estimated number of 200,000 victims of the Japanese system of military sexual slavery during World War II. In the past, this issue frequently gave rise to large waves of nationalist protests against Japan all over East Asia. Nevertheless, the movement successfully established a transnational advocacy network that also includes Japanese groups. This process was led by domestic NGOs and INGOs, governmental organizations (GOs), and institutions of international governance (IG). In this context, the analysis focuses on the development of a specific Asian identity beyond nationalist and global values.
(1) The rise of the solidarity network began when many East Asian countries entered the international political system after their transition to democracy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In this stage, the comfort women issue benefited from a favorable political climate and open opportunity structures. Comfort women-issue related NGOs were strongly supported by the Japanese women's movement, INGOs, and IGs. The framing of the comfort women issue was closely connected to universal "global" values such as gender equality and human rights. (2) In 1995, the transnational advocacy network was shaken by a crisis, when Japan introduced the Asian Women's Fund in order to financially compensate the victims without serious apology. The transnational advocacy network broke in two parts: While moderate civic groups from Japan and most INGOs supported the Japanese initiative, women groups from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China and North Korea opposed it. As a consequence, outside Japan, the comfort women issue was increasingly expressed in a nationalist language. (3) However, with the rise of the alter-globalization and the peace movements against the war in Iraq, activists began to revive their transnational ties. This time, the comfort women issue was connected to experiences of war and violence all over East Asia. In this context, activists developed a regional identity beyond nationalist and global values.