/

Abe, Park hope to repair Japan-South Korea ties on 50th anniversary

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye have indirectly sent each other messages expressing hope for repairing strained bilateral relations this year, a Japanese lawmaker said Thursday.

A visiting South Korean parliamentary delegation, led by Suh Chung-won, conveyed the message from Park to Abe, lawmaker Fukushiro Nukaga told reporters after attending their meeting. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Park’s message read that South Korea wants to mark a new beginning in its relations with Japan and will try to improve them, according to Nukaga.

At the outset of the meeting, which was open to the media, Abe said he would like to make 2015 “a year to improve Japan-South Korea relations.”

“I have said my door is always open for dialogue,” Abe said. “Since we have problems, we need to continue talks.”

According to Nukaga, Abe said in the closed-door part of the meeting that he will uphold the so-called Kono statement over the issue of “comfort women,” who provided sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

The statement, issued in 1993 by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, offered an apology to the victims, acknowledging for the first time the military’s involvement in setting up “comfort stations.”

South Koreans are concerned that Abe may alter the Kono statement when he issues a statement of his own this summer to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, given his past remarks.

Suh, who heads the South Korea-Japan lawmakers’ association, asked Abe to consider some kind of scheme to save the honor of such women, many of them Korean, Nukaga said.

Abe and Park have yet to hold a formal one-on-one summit since the two leaders took office, Abe in 2012 and Park in 2013, due to disagreements over territory and perceptions of wartime history.

But they had informal talks last November during a dinner at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Beijing when they were seated next to each other.

Park has insisted on holding a summit only after Japan demonstrates sincerity about resolving the comfort women issue.