Kishida casts off ‘comfort women’ resolution by year’s end

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Kishida casts off ‘comfort women’ resolution by year’s end

The Japanese foreign minister this week brushed aside any possibility that the dispute around Japan’s history of wartime sexual slavery could be resolved by the end of the year, despite anticipation that a bilateral leaders’ summit could make some headway.

His response came in regard to a question posed in an interview published by Nikkei on Wednesday concerning President Park Geun-hye’s request that the dispute surrounding the Imperial Japanese Army’s sexual enslavement of young women and girls during World War II be resolved within the year.

These victims, who by some estimates number in the tens of thousands, are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.”

“Nobody said [the issue] could be resolved within the year,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in the interview.

Early last month, President Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held their first official bilateral summit in Seoul, the highest-level talks to take place between both countries in more than three years.

Ahead of the summit on Nov. 2, Park made clear her desire to conclude the matter before the end of this year.

“I truly hope the comfort women issue can be resolved within the year through the Korea-Japan leaders’ summit so that the wounds of the victims can heal,” she told the Japanese press in October.

After the talks, Park and Abe vowed to speed up negotiations concerning Japan’s history of wartime sexual enslavement, which was considered an important step in thawing frosty bilateral ties.

At the time, Abe told reporters in Seoul that because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of ties between Korea and Japan, “we’ve agreed to accelerate talks for the earliest possible resolution.”

However, in a meeting just days later with Sadakazu Tanigaki, the secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Japanese prime minister was reported to have said that while Korea hopes to see an accord reached by the end of the year, “it would be difficult because the basic stances of Japan and Korea are different,” further indicating that it would be difficult to settle the issue on the set deadline.

In the interview Wednesday, when asked if a resolution to the comfort women issue needed a political decision, Kishida replied, “It depends on the discussion,” adding that negotiations are still ongoing.

When asked about the possibility of an agreement being reached, and whether a resolution would be final or come with preconditions, Kishida replied, “Nothing has been decided yet.”

Efforts would have to be made based on the bilateral leaders’ summit, he added.

In April 2014, Korea and Japan launched near-monthly bilateral negotiations between Foreign Ministry officials to attempt to resolve the issue, though the talks saw little progress.

Seoul has made repeated demands that Tokyo take responsibility and offer an apology and compensation to the victims. Japan, however, maintains that all war-related compensation issues, including those concerning comfort women, were settled under a 1965 treaty normalizing diplomatic relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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