Korea is ‘flexible’ on Park-Abe talks

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Korea is ‘flexible’ on Park-Abe talks

A summit between the leaders of Korea and Japan “is possible within the year, as soon as Tokyo is ready,” according to a high-ranking foreign affairs official from Seoul.

While a bilateral summit remains largely dependent on Japan’s sincerity in dealing with the issue of “comfort women” - the name given to Korean women and girls forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II - Seoul remains flexible, the Korean official said.

“Japan’s language has improved, but we want to restore the dignity of the comfort women victims while they are alive,” the official told reporters in Washington over the weekend. “We are waiting for this.”

The official added, however, that Korea is not being rigid in its stance on Tokyo making sincere efforts to resolve the comfort women issue.

“This signifies that if Japan shows an effort, we are also willing to show an effort,” he said.

“Both sides are working towards an environment where [a bilateral leader’s summit] can be held.”

Last Thursday, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told his Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, that his government wants a summit between President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Yun replied that Japan should first show a sincere attitude about historical issues.

Earlier this month, Japanese Prime Minister Abe sent a hand-written letter to President Park about a possible meeting on the sidelines of upcoming international conferences such as the APEC(Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) conference in Beijing in November.

After former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori gave the letter to Park at the Blue House on Sept. 19, anticipation arose about whether talks between Yun and Kishida at the United Nations would lead to an advancement of the comfort women issue.

Observers point out that the bilateral meeting between the ministers, which follows talks in August and consecutive meetings between Korean and Japanese politicians, are positive signs after a long diplomatic freeze.

But although there were four meetings between the Korean and Japanese foreign ministers this year, Abe and Park have not held a summit.

And despite ongoing monthly talks between Seoul and Tokyo to discuss resolving the dispute over Japan’s sexual slavery, there is concern about whether the Abe administration will pull through and ease the tension created by historical issues.

Washington has supported reconciliation between Seoul and Tokyo, which is in its own strategic interest, but has also been critical of the Abe administration’s revisionist stance in regard to history.

Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in New York at the General Assembly meeting that he is hoping for a summit between the leaders of Korea, Japan and China.

A recent report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a U.S. Congress policy think tank, states that the Abe administration has “jeopardized U.S. strategic interests in the region by taking steps that have aggravated historical animosities between Japan and its neighbors, particularly China and South Korea.”

The report published on Sept. 24, “Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress,” pointed out that the Abe government’s investigation into the drafting process of the 1993 Kono Statement can be seen as move to “undermine the legitimacy of the apology.”

“It is a significant report that organizes the position of the U.S. government and people,” a Korean foreign affairs official said yesterday.

A group of four scholars also released a statement over the weekend criticizing the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun’s inaccurate reporting on Japan’s comfort women system in an article published Sept. 11.

The statement criticized Mainichi’s reporting, which discredited an account by former Imperial Army soldier Seiji Yoshida, who said that he abducted Korean women for use as sexual slaves by the Japanese military.

The scholars said they were “disappointed by Mainichi’s limited reporting” for implying that Yoshida’s claim was the key source of “Western misunderstanding of the comfort women system.”

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

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