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Park, Abe spur sex slavery talksBy Korea Herald
Published : Nov. 2, 2015 - 13:09
The leaders of South Korea and Japan on Monday agreed to accelerate the ongoing negotiations on wartime sexual slavery for an early breakthrough, thawing years of frozen ties in their first-ever summit, but leaving most of the details unresolved.
Sitting down for a meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered officials to speed up the consultation process for an early finalization without setting a specified deadline.
The two, however, urged to keep the significance of the year 2015 in mind in the negotiations, said Kim Kyou-hyun, Park’s top aide on foreign affairs, indicating that joint efforts would be made for a possible conclusion by year-end.
The two countries have been holding bilateral negotiations on compensating South Korean women who served as sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II since April last year.
They have held nine rounds of working-level talks on the issue so far. No significant progress has yet been made.
“While we discussed the matter of comfort women, I believe that we should not leave any obstacles for our future generation for the sake of building a future-oriented cooperation,” Abe said after holding the summit talks for 100 minutes in total.
Park, for her part, urged Abe to mend the ties by curing “the pain of the past,” calling the pending issue of sex slaves “the biggest obstacle” to bilateral ties.
She also mentioned a message left by a Japanese diplomat in the 17th century, Hosyu Amenomori, quoting him as saying that the two should strive for “relations of integrity and trust.” She was seen as pressing Abe to deliver a proper apology over Japan‘s colonial aggression as a foundation for building a future-oriented relationship.
South Korea demands Japan take steps toward what Seoul regards as proper atonement for its wartime atrocities, while Tokyo insists all issues related to its 1910-45 colonial rule were settled in 1965 under a treaty that normalized bilateral ties in return for an economic aid package from Japan.
“Trust is the most important element in diplomacy. I expect this summit will be a meeting that cures the pain of the past and also an opportunity for the two countries to improve relations through an honest discussion,” said Park at the beginning of the meeting.
Abe also vowed to work together with Park to open a new chapter in the bilateral relationship, reiterating his earlier position without mentioning his view on the issue of Japan’s wartime atrocities.
“I think highly of the development of the bilateral relationship in the past 50 years (after the 1965 diplomatic normalization),” Abe said.
“Based on the past relationship, I will work together with President Park to open the new future of Japan-Korea ties.”
The remarks came at an expanded summit that followed a closed-door meeting where they intensively discussed the issue of sex slaves, known euphemistically as “comfort women,” for an hour -- 30 minutes longer than originally scheduled.
In the second part of the meeting, the two sides also discussed other regional issues including North Korea and economic cooperation, such as Seoul‘s possible participation in the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership. To join the TPP, South Korea must seek the consent of all 12-founding members, including Japan.
“The two sides discussed ways to work together to promote economic integration including a trilateral free trade deal between Korea, China and Japan and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and also TPP,” said An Chong-beom, senior presidential secretary for economic affairs.
While the much-anticipated talks ended on a friendly note, critics here said Seoul failed to make Japan offer an apology over its wartime atrocities.
Park has been maintaining her two-track foreign policy toward Japan, preconditioning the summit meeting with Abe’s delivery of a sincere apology for comfort women.
Seoul has been making moves to strengthen regional ties to better contain North Korea’s provocations while faced with pressure from the U.S. to improve ties with Japan to cope with China’s growing regional influence.
The meeting, the first of its kind in over three years, ended without an official luncheon, drawing a contrast to the friendly banquet hosted by Park for Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday.
Abe was visiting Seoul for his first time in nine years, but returned Monday afternoon without making many public appearances during his 28-hour stay. Seoul provided protocol suitable for his “working visit” as he was visiting primarily for a trilateral meeting that ended Sunday, officials said.
It was reported that Abe had considered visiting a traditional Korean wine house in central Seoul or a Japanese education institute as part of his public diplomacy and also to send a friendly gesture to Koreans who mostly view Japan’s atonement for wartime atrocities as a base for a renewed alliance. Abe also turned down demands by victims of sexual slavery to visit their joint residence in Gyeonggi Province. Currently, a total of 47 identified South Korean comfort women, mostly aged around 90, are living, down from 120 in 2007.
Historians estimate that more than 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were sexually enslaved by Japanese troops during World War II.
Some 70 civic groups held rallies in central Seoul, condemning the government for holding a summit with Japan without a formal apology for its wartime misdeeds.
The police dispatched thousands of riot police to block demonstrators as they staged rallies near Cheong Wa Dae ahead of the Park-Abe summit in the morning.
By Cho Chung-un (email@example.com)
Articles by Korea Herald
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