Seoul – South Korean and Japanese officials met Wednesday for their first round of talks since an agreement by the nations’ leaders to seek a prompt resolution of a dispute over women and girls forced into wartime sexual slavery.
The talks were aimed at moving forward an agreement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Park Geun-hye last week on trying to resolve the long-stalled row over women — many of them from the Korean Peninsula — who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
After Abe held talks with Park in Seoul on Nov. 2, their first one-on-one meeting, Abe told reporters: “With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties, we agreed to accelerate negotiations with the aim of concluding them as early as possible.”
Abe made no specific commitment during his summit talks with Park, but later stressed that both sides had an obligation to leave no “obstacles for future generations.”
Japan was represented by Kimihiro Ishikane, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, and South Korea by Lee Sang-deok, director general of the Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau.
After the meeting, Ishikane told reporters that he tried to seek common ground with his counterpart because the issue has been an obstacle in the development of bilateral ties.
Asked when the next meeting will be held, Ishikane replied: “We will coordinate it as soon as possible.”
South Korea has demanded that Japan settle the issue in a way acceptable to the women still alive, such as through an apology and compensation. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.
Japan maintains all matters of compensation were settled under the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic ties.
Tokyo wants Seoul not to keep raising the issue in the future once an agreement is reached. It also wants South Korea to remove the statue of a girl in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul that has become a symbol of the comfort women issue.
The director general-level talks to discuss the comfort women issue began in spring 2014, but they have been stalled since July due to a dispute involving the UNESCO World Heritage listing of historical industrial sites in Japan.
South Korea initially opposed the listings, but the sites were eventually added to the list after Seoul withdrew the opposition on condition Japan publicly acknowledge that Koreans had been coerced to work at some of the sites during World War II.