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[Editorial] Sex slave issue

Japan must change stance to untie the knot

The foreign ministers of Korea and Japan are to meet today to resolve the long-standing issue of the Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Imperial Japanese Army.

The meeting raises expectations for a breakthrough as Japan appears more willing to resolve the knotty problem than before. It was arranged after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Dec. 24 to travel to Seoul to wrap up the drawn-out talks over the issue by the end of the year.

Abe reportedly also sent National Security Adviser Shotaro Yachi to Seoul last week for talks with Lee Byung-ki, chief of staff for President Park Geun-hye.

Abe’s moves are in line with his pledge during his summit with Park in November to speed up the bilateral talks. At the meeting, Park insisted that the dispute be settled within the year.

Positive signs have also emerged in Seoul. A Seoul court recently acquitted Tatsuya Kato, a former Seoul correspondent of the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper who had been charged with defaming Park.

The Constitutional Court also decided Wednesday not to address a petition filed to challenge the constitutionality of the 1965 Korea-Japan treaty. Japan claims the treaty settled all issues of individual compensation to victims of forced labor during its colonial rule of Korea.

Yet we should not expect too much from today’s meeting, as the sex slave issue cannot be resolved unless Japan changes its stance fundamentally. The crux of the dispute is whether the Japanese government should bear legal responsibility for the immeasurable suffering of the sex slaves.

The Tokyo government has long argued that the 1965 treaty had settled all legal issues related to the Korean victims of its colonial rule, including the sex slaves.

In Seoul’s view, however, the 1965 treaty does not exonerate the Japanese government from responsibility for the sex slaves’ treatment, because the treaty simply settled claims stemming from Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea, without addressing the issue of compensation for Japan’s gross human rights abuses. Furthermore, the sex slave issue had not even surfaced at the time when the treaty was concluded. 

In this regard, the Seoul government demands that Tokyo acknowledge the human rights violations perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army, apologize to the victims, and officially compensate them.

It is still unclear what solutions Tokyo will present at today’s meeting of foreign ministers. Yet there seems to be no change in the Japanese government’s basic stance. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary said on Dec. 25 that the Tokyo government would stick to the view that the 1965 treaty had settled all legal issues regarding the sex slaves.

If Japan wants to resolve Korea’s long-running grudge, it should recognize the Japanese government’s involvement in committing gross human rights abuses against the sex slaves. And it must apologize and compensate for the ineffable sufferings of the victims. If it offers anything short of this, its authenticity will be questioned.

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