Seoul and Tokyo plan to hold working-level talks Thursday on the long-standing issue of Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, the Foreign Ministry here said Tuesday.
The meeting will mark a second round of consultations aimed at improving the two countries’ relations frayed by revisionist moves by Japanese officials and politicians.
Lee Sang-deok, director general for Northeast Asian affairs at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday for a two-day stay including talks with Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
They are expected to focus primarily on the sex slavery issue and then confer on other matters, officials said. Among them could be North Korea’s increasing military threats, Japan’s push for its right to collective self-defense, Seoul’s ban on fisheries imports from regions hit by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and ongoing lawsuits here over Japanese firms’ forceful wartime mobilization of Korean labor.
“The so-called comfort women issue is something that we’re pressing Japan on,” a senior ministry official told reporters on customary condition of anonymity.
“There is every reason for the two countries’ director generals to discuss all relevant issues when they get to meet. … What’s important is that their talks will focus intensively on the comfort women issue.”
The diplomats held negotiations one month ago for the first time since the sex slavery issue emerged in 1991 but made little headway due to stark differences in their positions. It came shortly after a trilateral summit between President Park Geun-hye, U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe in late March in The Hague.
Seoul has been calling for formal, sincere apologies and compensation for the victims, while Tokyo claims the issue was settled in a 1965 bilateral agreement that normalized ties between the two governments.
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.
Another major issue will be Japan’s pursuit of collective self-defense. Abe is forecast to articulate on Thursday his stance toward the planned reinterpretation of the country’s pacifist constitution after receiving a report from an advisory panel. This will likely pave the way for his long-cherished goal of adjusting the constitution to allow Japan to use force to safeguard allies under attack.
The announcement could further unnerve Seoul and Beijing, the major victims of Japan’s imperial past, which have been calling on Tokyo to fully repent for its wartime atrocities before moving to exercise its right to collective self-defense.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)