Tokyo and Seoul failed to make progress on the “comfort women” issue in a meeting Monday between Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong.
Saiki explained Japan’s stance that the issue does not involve any legal matters.
A South Korean government source said holding bilateral discussions itself has meaning, effectively admitting that the vice ministers failed to make any progress close the gap in their stances. South Korea wants Japan to legal responsibility over the issue.
The start of the meeting in Seoul was delayed when a South Korean citizens’ group blocked the car carrying Saiki in front of the South Korean Foreign Ministry.
Japan filed a protest with South Korea over the obstruction. The South Korean Foreign Ministry expressed regret to Saiki.
Saiki told Cho that the issue it is not a legal problem, but rather involves the feelings of the former comfort women, and the Japanese government will deal with the matter from this standpoint.
He also told Cho that the bilateral relationship should not be damaged because of the issue.
South Korea has repeatedly demanded that Japan settle the issue in a way that is acceptable to the surviving victims, including an apology and compensation.
Japan maintains that the issue of compensation was legally settled with South Korea under a 1965 bilateral agreement when the two nations normalized ties.
According to the South Korean government source, Cho told Saiki that not only South Korea but other countries in the region will be closely monitoring a statement being considered by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to mark the 70th year since the end of World War II.
Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye have not yet held a formal one-on-one summit since the two leaders took office, Abe in 2012 and Park in 2013, due to strained bilateral ties.
The two countries have held director general-level talks five times to tackle concerns such as the comfort women issue but have failed to find common ground, leading them to upgrade the talks to the vice ministerial level.