Lawmakers’ unions resolve to fix history issues

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Lawmakers’ unions resolve to fix history issues

TOKYO - Two parliamentarians’ unions from Korea and Japan made up of lawmakers from both countries adopted a joint statement Friday agreeing to restore the dignity and promote the emotional healing of Korean women forcibly recruited into wartime brothels by the Japanese via combined efforts.

About 100 bipartisan lawmakers from both nations in a joint meeting in Tokyo discussed how to advance good relations between Korea and Japan despite ongoing historical disputes.

Among other things, they agreed to promote the Joseon-era goodwill missions by Korea’s diplomatic delegations to Japan for recognition by Unesco, and to closely cooperate ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The lawmakers also concurred that the address by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in August intended to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II should reflect past apologies by Japanese statesmen.The event, they said, which is also the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, serves as an occasion to accelerate the partnership between both countries.

“Korea is Japan’s most important neighboring country, and I have long expressed my belief that we have to trust each other and advance our relations,” Prime Minister Abe said through Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato. He continued that he would like to join hands with President Park Geun-hye to work toward a new future for the two countries.

The Japanese group was led by ruling Liberal Democratic Party Rep. Fukushiro Nukaga, a former finance minister who heads the Japan-Korea Parliamentarians’ Union. Japan “is actively and sincerely working toward friendly relations [with Korea],” he said at the opening of the session at the Capitol Hotel in Tokyo, noting that it held deep remorse for its colonial and wartime aggressions.

“We having a difficult time further advancing Korea-Japan relations due to history issues,” said ruling Saenuri Party Rep. Suh Chung-won, who heads the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union, noting the thousands of Korean women forced into sexual slavery at the hands of the Japanese military during World War II, who are euphemistically known as “comfort women.”

“I believe that cooperation between Korea and Japan is not just for both countries and Northeast Asia; it will also contribute greatly to peace and prosperity globally.”

However, in a parliamentary meeting the same day, Abe effectively denied that Japan had conscripted Korean workers during the conflict - saying that they had been “forced to work,” rather than calling them “forced workers” - phrasing that Tokyo used last week at a Unesco World Heritage Committee meeting.

“The Korean government never said Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida’s words during the press conference were wrong,” Abe said at a security and legal affairs meeting at the National Diet.

On July 5, the World Heritage Committee designated a group of 23 Meiji Revolution industrial sites as Unesco World Heritage Sites, with the inclusion of a footnote in Japan’s documents acknowledging that a large number of Koreans “were brought against their will and forced to work under harsh conditions in the 1940s at some of the sites.”

The additional footnote came after Seoul voiced concerns that the Japanese industrial sites included seven facilities where 57,900 Koreans were forced to work during World War II. Korea and Japan negotiated the issue for months. The heritage committee in Bonn, Germany, lauded the two countries’ diplomatic efforts that resulted in a satisfactory agreement, as Tokyo said that it would work toward disseminating the “full history” of those sites and set up information centers.

However, since then, Japanese officials including Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga have tried to deny that the workers “forced to work” were in reality “forced laborers.”

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has emphasized that the official language of the World Heritage Committee was in English, and there should be no confusion to its meaning, as the significance of the wording was clear to the international community.

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

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