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[Newsmaker] Park's sister raises stir over Japan ties

Just as President Park Geun-hye struggles to improve the country’s relations with Japan, an unlikely figure has catapulted herself to the center of controversy by criticizing Seoul for dragging out the sex slavery rows: her younger sister, Geun-ryeong.

In an interview with Japan’s video-sharing website Niconico, the 61-year-old Park Geun-ryeong said she was sorry that in most news reports South Korea blames Japan for the ongoing toil of the so-called comfort women “without itself taking greater care” of them.

Citing previous statements including the regret expressed by Emperor Hirohito to then-President Chun Doo-hwan in 1984, she said it is “inappropriate” to demand an apology every time a new premier takes office. 

Park Geun-ryeong (Yonhap)
Park Geun-ryeong (Yonhap)
 Park also defended the Japanese prime minister’s globally criticized visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in December 2013, calling Seoul’s opposition an “interference” in another country’s internal affairs.

“I believe if anyone thinks that the prime minister would worship at the Yasukuni with an ambition for another war in mind, he or she is an abnormal person,” Park said. “How would blood-related descendants not pay respect to their ancestors?”

Her remarks are likely to have little impact on the bilateral diplomatic relations or the ongoing talks aimed at resolving the sex slavery dispute, but they instantly sparked public uproar given her position in the presidential family.

With Korea regarding the issue’s resolution as essential for rapprochement, the two countries’ foreign ministries have held eight rounds of talks and Park Geun-hye herself said the negotiations were at the “final stage” during a recent interview.

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 relations.

Geun-ryeong’s remarks once again highlighted the checkered relationship between the sisters.

The older Park has apparently been displeased with Geun-ryeong’s marriage, being absent at her 2008 wedding to Shin Dong-wook, who they suspected had ulterior motives for approaching their sister 14 years older than him.

Shin, who currently heads the minor Republican Party, was found guilty in 2009 of spreading malicious rumors online about the president before her election, serving 18 months in prison.

The two sisters became estranged over the right to operate the Korean Children’s Center, a private foundation set up by their late mother Yuk Young-soo in 1969 to promote child welfare. Geun-ryeong took over the organization in 1990 from her elder sister, whom she accused of failing to spot misconduct by its board members. Yet she was also forced to step down in 2004 amid corruption scandals involving her own staff. Though she raised a suit to nullify the decision, the Supreme Court ruled in May 2009 that her layoff was justified.

By Shin Hyon-hee (