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Japan, S. Korea share concerns beyond ‘comfort women’ issue

Publication Date : 17-08-2014

 

We seriously question the appropriateness of South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s pursuit of unilateral concessions from Japan on the issue of so-called comfort women. This unbending stance should be altered to allow for more flexible diplomacy if an improved Japan-South Korea relationship is to be built.

In her speech Friday at a ceremony marking the 69th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, Park said it was necessary for the two nations to make efforts to heal the wounds from the past, stressing the importance of settling historical issues. She also reiterated her criticism of the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, saying certain Japanese politicians are hurting and pulling apart the hearts of people in both nations.

The fact that she made a stronger demand than before for Japan to address the comfort women issue should not be overlooked. Park said the bilateral relationship would certainly develop if the two nations properly settle this issue, a remark made to urge Tokyo to take specific steps.

Her remarks were made as if the settlement of the comfort women issue were an absolute prerequisite for improving bilateral ties. Her stance is questionable.

Immediately after her inau-guration in February last year, Park started putting importance on historical issues with Japan. In a ceremony in March this year to mark Korea’s 1919 uprising against Japan’s colonial rule, Park referred to the necessity of solving the comfort women issue. By doing so, she made clear her anti-Japan stance of putting top priority on the issue.

Japan’s gesture spurned

It is unreasonable to demand that only Japan compromise on the issue, considering relevant developments in the past.

The issue of colonial-era reparations, including individual rights to claim compensation, was legally settled when Japan and South Korea normalized diplomatic relations in 1965. Despite that, the Japanese government established the Asian Women’s Fund to provide “atonement money” and carry out other projects for former comfort women in order to fulfill its moral responsibility.

The South Korean government hailed the fund’s establishment, but the projects did not progress as intended in the face of rising public opinion in South Korea that sought for Japan to take legal responsibility over the issue.

Although it would be extremely difficult for Japan to do more in terms of humanitarian measures, Park has taken it upon herself to insist on the settlement of the issue, impeding fence-mending between the two nations.

In her Friday speech, she also said the two nations must build future-oriented relations of friendship and cooperation toward next year, which will mark the 50th anniversary of the two nations’ normalization of diplomatic relations. If this is really what she wants, perhaps she should stop making the settlement of the issue a precondition for a bilateral summit meeting.

It would be realistic for Japan and South Korea to seek specific ways to settle the issue with both sides coming steps closer, while building a relationship of trust through repeated dialogues between the political leaders.

In South Korea, an increasing number of people are questioning the current state of their nation’s diplomatic policy toward Japan, which is stalled due to the comfort women issue, and calling for cooperation with Japan over North Korean and economic policies.

We wonder if such calm opinions have reached her ears.

 

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