SEOUL – New South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se has urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to “correctly” face up to historical issues stemming from Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula.
“I would like the leader of the Japanese government to grasp historical matters correctly and act accordingly,” Yun told Japanese reporters Friday in Seoul, in the first remarks issued to foreign news outlets by President Park Geun Hye’s government since its launch in late February.
Yun, who became foreign minister Monday, also called on Abe’s administration to address the issue of women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during the war.
“These women are at an extremely advanced age. A clear conclusion needs to be drawn on this matter while they are alive,” Yun stressed, urging Japan to deal with their grievances immediately.
His remarks were directed at Abe, who has long held the view that a 1993 government statement acknowledging and apologizing for the forcible recruitment of Korean and other Asian women for wartime military brothels should be reassessed.
Yun did not address the territorial dispute over a pair of South Korea-controlled islets in the Sea of Japan, referred to as Dokdo by Seoul and Takeshima by Tokyo, that has sent bilateral ties to the lowest point in years, saying only that it is important to build trust between the two sides on the basis of “people’s sentiments.”
After the news conference, however, South Korean officials asked the Japanese media groups present to refrain from reporting Yun’s remark.
“The Park Geun Hye administration has just been launched. It is not good for either country to touch on this issue,” one of the officials said, apparently concerned that Yun and the government could be perceived by the public as taking a weak stance toward Japan’s sovereignty claim if the comment was reported.
But the Japanese reporters turned down the request.
Meanwhile, Yun also indicated that the South intends to work with Japan and other countries in the international community over North Korea’s latest provocations, amid heightened tensions on the peninsula following Pyongyang’s third nuclear test last month.
On Abe’s recent invitation of Park to visit Japan, Yun said it is “too early to state a concrete period” given that her government has just been inaugurated.
Tokyo maintains that issues relating to reparations, property and claims arising from the war and its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula were legally settled in a 1965 bilateral accord that normalized diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea.
However, bitter memories of atrocities committed by Imperial Japanese troops still run deep among many South Koreans.