Now let’s move forwardThe thorny issue between Korea and Japan of sex slaves during World War II was settled at Monday’s meeting in Seoul between foreign ministers. It is fortunate that both nations have addressed the long-standing issue within 2015, the 50th anniversary of the Treaty on Basic Relations and 70th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from colonial rule.
Given the level of Tokyo’s apology for the enslavement of Korean women during the war and the way Japan expressed it, that’s a step forward. Though Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida stopped short of accepting Japan’s legal responsibility over the issue, he said the Japanese government thoroughly regrets the deep scars on the honor and integrity of many Korean women with the involvement of Japan’s Army. That translates into Japan’s first official recognition of its responsibility for the tragedy.
Regarding the apology, the foreign minister clearly stated that Japan’s Cabinet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expresses deep remorse for the mobilization of “comfort women.” That signals a step forward compared to remarks by Japan’s past governments.
What worries us is Korean people’s reaction to the deal, as it mentions highly volatile words like “the declaration of a final and irreversible settlement” and “restraining from mutual criticism and denunciation.”
Even if both countries declare an end to the dispute, what if individual victims or civic groups lodge lawsuits on the international stage? The same applies to the statue of a comfort woman across from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Despite our government’s promise to “consider relocation of the statue,” the civic groups set it up, not the government. It’s not easy to know what will happen down the road. The government must find effective ways to persuade comfort women and the public to accept the results of the talks.
Japan’s attitudes are critical here. If Abe’s cabinet continues to deny Japan’s past crimes, it will only invite the outrage of Koreans for Japan’s endless rewriting of history. Yet, a complete victory is not possible in diplomacy. Despite some unsatisfactory results, we need to recognize both governments’ efforts to resolve the issue. It would be wise for us to regard Japan’s expression - albeit indirect - of legal responsibility and seek practical gains from it.
Though the sex slave issue has been a stumbling block in Seoul-Tokyo relations, we cannot live without Japan. It is pivotal to the Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance. You can choose your friends, but not your neighbors. Both nations must move forward.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 29, Page 34