South Korea and Japan will hold high-level talks in Seoul this week on the latter's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, with attention focused on Tokyo's stance on the emotive issue, officials said Tuesday.
The director general-level meeting, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, will be the first venue reserved for addressing the wartime atrocity, which remains a cause of frayed bilateral ties.
Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, were coerced into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers during World War II. They are euphemistically called comfort women.
Despite Seoul's repeated call for a swift settlement of the long-running grievances for the elderly victims, Tokyo has refused to make an apology or pay compensation, claiming that all its liabilities stemming from the 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean
Peninsula were settled through the 1965 treaty that normalizes the bilateral ties.
Announcing the arrangement of the meeting, Japan said it will take the talks "seriously and sincerely," drawing attention to whether Japan could alter its stance.
"As it will be the first talks of the kind, the two sides are forecast to spend a lot of time exploring each other's view," a Seoul foreign ministry official said, requesting anonymity.
"Seoul and Tokyo will also talk about ways to continue their discussions down the road over the matter," he said, indicating bilateral efforts to hold such meetings on a regular basis.
Asked if other bilateral issues will also be dealt with during the talks, Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said "the agenda for the meeting tomorrow is the wartime sex slavery," adding the two sides have "continued necessary discussions via diverse dialogue channels."
"It would be best if the one-time session resolved the comfort women issue. If not, I believe such talks will go on," Cho told the regular briefing.
The Wednesday meeting also comes ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's scheduled visit to Asia, including South Korea and Japan, next week.
Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have been severely strained since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took power in 2012 over historical and territorial issues, including the comfort women case and Japan's continued claim to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo.
Tokyo has called for high-level talks to narrow the differences, including the summit meeting, but Seoul urged the neighbor to stop "regressive actions" and to address the pending historical issues in a swift fashion. (Yonhap)