Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s call for a summit between President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to resolve the issue of sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II should be given serious consideration by both the Korean and Japanese governments.
Abe’s backpedaling on the subject of Japanese wartime atrocities is a major reason for the current icy relations between the two neighboring countries. In March, Abe had said that his government would uphold the Murayama Statement and that there would be no revision of the Kono Statement.
The Murayama Statement, which apologizes for the damage and suffering caused by Japan to its Asian neighbors has been taken as the official position of the Japanese government on the country’s wartime aggression since it was released by then-Prime Minister Murayama in 1995. This followed the Kono Statement made in 1993 by then-Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, which acknowledges the involvement of the Japanese military in the recruitment of sex slaves and operation of the system of sexual slavery.
But Japan announced the results of a review of the Kono Statement in June, which said that the Kono Statement was the product of a political compromise between Seoul and Tokyo. The review was aimed at nullifying or at least devaluing the Kono Statement, and is largely viewed as a step toward revising the Kono Statement.
While Abe has pledged to uphold the spirit of the Kono Statement in the face of the furor in Korea after the June announcement, the review has sent the already icy relations between the two countries into a state of permafrost.
In a speech in Seoul on Aug. 22, Murayama noted that the issue of military sexual slavery cannot be resolved by Japan alone, and called for a summit between the two countries to resolve the issue.
The need for a summit meeting was also expressed by Yoo Heung-soo, Korea’s new ambassador to Japan, on Aug. 21, who said that it was up to Japan to resolve the military sexual slavery issue.
It has been more than 1 1/2 years since Park and Abe came to power in the two neighboring countries, but there has yet to be a summit meeting between the two. It is high time that Park and Abe met face to face and the two sides appear to be in agreement over the need for such a meeting.
In March, Tokyo made overtures for a Park-Abe meeting, but these were rebuffed by Seoul, which insisted that the military sexual slavery issue must be resolved before a summit can take place.
By attaching a precondition to a summit, Seoul has made it difficult for one to be realized. However, Abe’s backpedaling on the issue of military sexual slavery does not inspire confidence in Abe as a summit partner, either. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has reportedly asked the government to draw up a new statement to replace the Kono Statement next year, noting that it would mark the 50th anniversary of normalization of relations between Korea and Japan.
A path out of the current impasse must be found. Rather than sticking to its principle of Japan resolving the military sexual slavery issue before a summit, Seoul can perhaps offer a summit meeting to start an open and honest dialogue on how to resolve the issue.