|Yoshitaka Shindo (AFP-Yonhap)|
Seoul and Tokyo plan to hold director general-level talks on Wednesday on the long-festering issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, the Foreign Ministry here said Sunday.
The consultations will mark an attempt by the two sides, with pressure from Washington, to mend fences eroded by a series of revisionist moves by Japanese officials and politicians ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s planned visit next week.
The upcoming meeting, the first of its kind since the sex slavery issue came to light in 1991, came about through a trilateral summit between Obama, President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe late last month in The Hague.
The negotiations will be led by Lee Sang-deok, director general for Northeast Asian affairs at Korea’s Foreign Ministry, and Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry. They last met in February in Seoul.
“Our steadfast stance is that the comfort women issue remains unresolved,” a Seoul official told reporters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“For our part, we will make efforts to come up with measures as soon as possible which are acceptable to the aging victims and can restore their honor.”
Yet the meeting’s outlook remains highly bleak, given the stark differences between the sides.
Seoul has been calling for formal, sincere apologies and compensation for the victims, while Tokyo claims the issue was already settled through a 1965 bilateral agreement that normalized their relations.
Up to 200,000 women, mostly Korean, are believed to have been forced to provide sex to Japanese troops in frontline brothels during World War II. Of the 237 Korean women who came forward as former sex slaves, 55 are still alive.
If the talks fail to yield any substantive progress, the Park administration will face criticism at home for having handed Abe a diplomatic coup at a time when he and his confidants are unrelentingly pursuing a multitude of hawkish territorial and historical policies.
Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Yoshitaka Shindo on Saturday again made what he called a private visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, drawing protests from Korea and China.
The Tokyo temple is dedicated to some 2.5 million Japanese war dead including top colonial leaders and war criminals involved in massacres, sex slavery, forced labor and other atrocities. Abe’s own trip in December sorely taxed Korea-Japan ties, prompting the U.S. to openly express “disappointment.”
“The worship by a Cabinet member at the Yasukuni Shrine beautifying Japan’s past war of aggression is an act which squarely challenges neighbors that suffered from Japan’s imperial aggression, even though the international community is voicing criticism and concerns in unison about Japanese politicians’ retrogressive remarks and behaviors,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)