Seoul, Tokyo hold second round of talks on comfort women

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Seoul, Tokyo hold second round of talks on comfort women

Korea and Japan held their second round of director-general talks yesterday in Tokyo to work toward resolving the ongoing issue of the Japanese Imperial Army’s sexual enslavement of Korean women and girls during World War II.

While a solution is not expected to be decided upon this round, more in-depth discussion on technical aspects of the issue was anticipated compared to last time. Lee Sang-deok, the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s director-general of the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau, met with his Japanese counterpart, Junichi Ihara, the head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, for rare senior-level governmental negotiations to discuss the issue of “comfort women,” as they are euphemistically known.

Lee arrived in Tokyo yesterday for two days to follow up on the first round of working-level talks in Seoul last month, considered the first of its kind, to focus solely on the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement of women during wartime. Divergent views on historical issues have led to deteriorated bilateral relations between the two countries. The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement yesterday that Lee and Ihara held “in-depth discussions” and decided to hold the next rounds of talks in June in Seoul.

The first round in April was considered an opportunity to reaffirm each nation’s position, according to officials here. The two sides agreed to hold regular director-level talks after the first session, which came ahead of the first meeting between President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a trilateral summit facilitated by President Barack Obama in The Hague on the sidelines of the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit.

This round was anticipated to touch on more technical aspects, such as the legality of the Japanese government’s forceful recruitment of Korean women, the difference in interpretation of the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations and the logistics of victim compensation. Korea has demanded that Japan officially apologize for its military’s sexual enslavement of girls and women and compensate those victims.

Japan maintains that the comfort women issue was resolved with the 1965 treaty, which normalized relations between Japan and Korea and waived Korea’s right to make further claims.

But to Korea, the issue was not resolved in 1965, as the sexual enslavement of Asian women by the Japanese military only emerged as an issue after a former Korean victim made a public testimony in 1991, leading to a slew of other victims to speak out on the brutalities they faced during that time. The Japanese government led an investigation of the controversy in 1991.

In August 1993, Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei issued a landmark statement that acknowledged the involvement of Japan’s military and police authorities and the forceful recruitment of comfort women. It also offered apologies on behalf of the government.

But the so-called 1993 Kono Statement has been refuted or challenged over the past two decades and is not in lieu of an official government apology, Seoul says.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declared in February, for example, that the Shinzo Abe government will launch a probe to “re-examine” the testimonies of 16 Korean victims made during Japan’s 1991 investigation. Cho Tai-young, the spokesman for Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that officials here are “in communication with former comfort women and other related parties,” to reflect their opinions in a resolution with Japan.

However, time is running out. There are only 55 former comfort women in Korea still living.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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