Korea and Japan on Thursday discussed ways to resolve the long-festering issue of Tokyo’s mobilization of Korean women as sex slaves during World War II.
Lee Sang-deok, director general for Northeast Asian affairs at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, touched down in Tokyo early in the day for a two-day stay. He held talks with Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at Tokyo’s Foreign Ministry, and was expected to meet with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki.
The meeting followed their first-ever negotiations a month ago since the so-called comfort women issue emerged in 1991, during which the sides reaffirmed their respective stances.
It reflects the two countries’ efforts to put their relations back on track, strained by revisionist moves by ranking officials and politicians of the Shinzo Abe administration.
But the talks appeared to have made little progress due to stark differences in their positions. Seoul has been demanding an official, sincere apology and compensation for the victims, while Tokyo claims the issue was settled in a 1965 agreement that normalized their checkered bilateral ties.
“We’ve been collecting views from the victims and experts ahead of the meeting. It’s important to deliver the domestic public opinions to Japan,” a senior ministry official told reporters before the negotiations.
“The consultations will not be easy ― it will require time. … But given the aging of the victims, we will strive to come up with measures that are acceptable to them.”
Despite the gap between the two sides, observers raised the need to revive the now-defunct, so-called “Sasae” proposal. The Lee Myung-bak administration and the Japanese government led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party once floated the idea of ending the feud through a package of an apology by then Japanese Ambassador to Korea Kenichiro Sasae, a related letter by Noda and a fund for the victims.
Lee and Ihara were expected to focus chiefly on the sex slavery issue and then discuss other matters in separate sessions, 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.
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.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)