Japan denies progress in ministerial talks

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Japan denies progress in ministerial talks

Despite President Park Geun-hye’s declaration that negotiations over Japan’s record of wartime sexual slavery were in their final stages, Tokyo has indicated that this may not be the case, demonstrating a considerable discrepancy in views between Seoul and Tokyo.

The Korean government said earlier this week that there had been considerable progress since it commenced near-monthly negotiations with senior foreign minister officials from Korea and Japan in April 2014 in an attempt to resolve the issue of the Imperial Japanese Army’s forceful recruitment of young women and girls into military brothels during World War II.

These victims are euphemistically known as “comfort women.”

“Because it is not an easy negotiation, we have been going along slowly, but recently there has been meaningful progress,” Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told reporters in a press conference Monday during his visit to Washington.

“There is progress compared to the past, but in order for things to be set right in the future, there needs to be various efforts, including ongoing director-general level talks,” he continued. “The negotiations have to be upgraded at the appropriate time.”

In an interview with the Washington Post on Friday, President Park was quoted as saying that, “There has been considerable progress on the ‘comfort women’ issue,” and that Seoul and Tokyo are “in the final stages of our negotiations.”

However, a number of issues still need to be ironed out.

“Intense negotiations between Korea and Japan are happening, but it looks likes it will take some time… There are many variables,” said a diplomatic source in Japan.

Seoul has repeatedly urged Japan to accept legal responsibility for its military’s involvement in the forceful recruitment of young women during the World War II era.

Korea is expecting at least more progress than previous apologetic statements made by Japanese politicians, such as that by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in 1995, who acknowledged Japan’s wartime victims in a landmark statement.

Since the beginning of Foreign Ministry negotiations, the Korean government has emphasized that it needs to see a resolution that will be acceptable to the Korean victims. However, Japan has remained unyielding in accepting national responsibility and providing legal reparations.

In a press conference on Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that Japan’s position “has not changed” and reiterated its stance that all issues regarding legal responsibly were resolved under the 1965 basic treaty between Korea and Japan.

He added that because he “did not know President Park’s intent,” he would refrain from speaking about her Washington Post interview.

Multiple Japanese media outlets quoted senior Foreign Ministry officials, who indicated they were confused as to what Park meant by “considerable progress,” with some saying no specific progress had been made.

Experts and civil group activists here have pointed out the difficulty in the issue being resolved.

Lee Won-deok, an international studies professor at Kookmin University and director of its Institute of Japan Studies, said that the talks were diplomatic negotiations, but also related to domestic politics.

“It’s difficult having to take into consideration Japan’s right-wing and our domestic public opinion. … That’s why this is a problem for which the leaders of the two countries have to make a political decision, and President Park this time has partly shown that she has such an intent,” Lee said.

BY OH YOUNG-HWAN, AN HYO-SEONG AND SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]
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