Monumental opportunitySouth Korea and Japan will hold a foreign affairs ministerial meeting in Seoul in a bid to settle the row over the comfort women issue. Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, will try to find a resolution based on terms negotiated over the weekend between director-level officials. The outcome could be a turning point in the bilateral relationship that has been locked in a stalemate over longstanding differences in the tone of apology and compensation for surviving victims who were forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II.
President Park Geun-hye and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at last month’s summit talks agreed in principle to settle the issue within the year, but no progress has since been made. Talks suddenly picked up after Abe ordered his foreign affairs minister to fly to Seoul to conclude a settlement. Recent developments - a Seoul court’s acquittal of the former Seoul bureau chief of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun on a charge of defaming the Korean president and the prosecution’s decision not to appeal, and the Constitutional Court’s decision on Wednesday not to rule on a complaint about the 1965 war settlements - reportedly moved Abe to be more proactive in resolving the thorny comfort women issue.
The mood has developed for a resolution to this complicated and bitter issue, but we cannot be confident of satisfactory results. Media reports from Japan still raise questions about the Tokyo government’s sincerity on the issue. Some media outlets reported the government would be creating a fund from the state budget as a kind of monetary atonement, to suggest money was what surviving victims were after. There was one report that the Seoul government agreed to move the bronze statue of a girl dedicated to symbolize comfort women sitting across from the Japanese embassy in Seoul as a part of the settlement. The flood of reports from Japan raises suspicion that Tokyo may be using media outlets to influence public opinion ahead of the crucial talks.
The key to the dispute is a formal admission and legal accountability from Tokyo over organized coercion of Korean women to serve as wartime sex slaves for the Japanese military. Tokyo must admit the brutal wrongdoings, and make due apology and compensation to the victims and Korean people. It is seriously wrong if it believes Korea would be content with a statement of apology and some compensation money. If Japan keeps to its belief that the issue had been concluded through comprehensive war settlements, there is no need for further talks. What we must see is the will and genuine atonement of the Tokyo government.
Timing is everything. We hope Japan will truly free itself from past ghosts by settling the comfort women issue clearly during the monumental talks.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 28, Page 34