German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Japan on Tuesday to resolve the “comfort women” issue in her second foray into the delicate issue of East Asian history following her comment Monday that settling the wartime past is a prerequisite for reconciliation.
Winding up a whirlwind visit to Japan, Merkel met Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, and said Tokyo should “go ahead with reconciliation” with South Korea over the comfort women issue.
“Japan and South Korea share values,” Merkel reportedly told Okada. “It’s better to resolve the . . . issue properly.”
While many historians describe comfort women as sex slaves in light of the harshness of their circumstances and lack of freedom to quit, conservatives say the women were prostitutes engaged in a commercial exchange.
Merkel’s comments come as Japan readies to mark the 70th anniversary of its defeat in World War II.
Following a summit with Abe on Monday, Merkel told a news conference that settling wartime history is “a prerequisite for reconciliation.”
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, however, insisted that it is “inappropriate to simply compare” Japan with Germany over their postwar situations.
“The background — what happened to Japan and Germany during the war and what countries their neighbors are — is different,” Kishida told reporters.
During Monday’s talks, meanwhile, Abe and Merkel pledged to play a more active role in maintaining stability and prosperity in the international community, including finding a peaceful solution for the Ukrainian crisis.
“As responsible global partners, the two countries have very important roles in addressing various issues that not only Asia and Europe but also the international society face,” Abe said at a joint news conference in his office after the summit with Merkel.
Pointing out that the Ukrainian crisis has serious international implications, Abe said he and Merkel, as the hosts of the next two Group of Seven summits, will cooperate on the issue.
“Together with Chancellor Merkel, I will strongly urge Russia to play a constructive role in achieving a diplomatic and peaceful solution, including implementation of a cease-fire agreement,” Abe said.
Merkel stressed that Ukraine’s territorial integrity should never be changed by use of force.
On terrorism, Merkel said the two countries have joined hands in addressing the Islamic State group.
“I felt distress at the two Japanese who fell victim to terrorism,” Merkel said, referring to the killing of two Japanese nationals by the extremists earlier this year. “Together, we have to carry out the fight against terrorism and need to come up with measures to stop such terrorism.”
Abe said he and Merkel pledged further cooperation in seeking reform of the U.N. Security Council so that it will be better suited for the 21st century. Japan and Germany are members of the so-called Group of Four nations, along with Brazil and India, seeking major reform.