Last week, the U.N. Committee on Human Rights called on Japan to ensure that effective, independent and impartial investigations be launched into wartime sex slavery and to offer an apology to “comfort women,” who were forced to work in its military brothels.
The Japanese government under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe turned down this recommendation, the latest of its kind from the international community. While expressing regrets about the recommendation, the Abe government denied again that Korean and other Asian women were coerced into military sex slavery.
The Abe government, claiming that there is no evidence of coercion, has been backtracking on Japan’s 1993 official apology to comfort women, which is a cause of diplomatic friction between Korea and Japan. Abe and other Japanese leaders also ruffle the feathers of the Korean government each time they visit the Yasukuni Shrine to pay homage to the war dead, including convicted war criminals, commemorated at the shrine.
His historical revisionism is angering Korea and other victimized Asian countries. Yet, Abe has repeatedly proposed holding summit talks with Korean President Park Geun-hye on improving strained bilateral relations, intentionally ignoring the hard feelings Park harbors against his government.
As such, it came as no surprise when Abe offered to send the Tokyo governor as his messenger earlier in the month. What was surprising though was that Park agreed to receive him. He visited the Blue House last week and became the first Japanese politician to do so since she met with former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in her office in February 2013.
The Tokyo governor told Park that Abe desired to mend tattered relations with Korea. That is the terse explanation a presidential spokesman made about Abe’s message. The spokesman quoted Park as saying that Korea and Japan need to work together as neighbors for the peace and prosperity of Northeast Asia.
It was not immediately known whether or not Abe renewed his proposal for a summit and, if he did, what Park’s response was. Or did he send a messenger only to pull her leg again?
Abe took office in December 2012, two months before Park did. Yet, the two leaders have held no summit. This is anything but normal, and all the more so given that the exchange of frequent working visits was envisioned during the long-past halcyon days.
Japan is a world power. This fact is not negated by the rise of China, which has replaced Japan as the second-largest economy. Korea, which has much to gain from harmonious, friendly relations with Japan, is prepared to patch up bilateral ties, with Yoo Heung-soo, a Japan expert, serving as ambassador to Tokyo.
Yoo, a former four-term lawmaker, lived in Japan until he was in the fifth grade and moved to Korea shortly before the outbreak of the Korean War. He now heads the Korea-Japan Friendship Association.
Park handpicked Yoo as her point man for improving relations with Japan. Yet, an aggrieved Park will not rush to hold a summit with Abe unless the Japanese prime minister takes the initiative and abandons his desire to rewrite Japan’s colonial history and whitewash Japan’s wartime atrocities.