Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has instructed Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to visit South Korea by year-end to make an attempt to resolve the wartime “comfort women” issue, sources close to Japanese-Korean ties said Thursday.
The dispute has been a major sticking point between the two countries and had prevented Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye from meeting one-on-one until last month, when they met under pressure from the United States.
A diplomatic source said Kishida plans to head to South Korea on Monday, at the earliest, to discuss the issues of the ianfu (comfort women) with South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se. Ianfu is Japan’s euphemism for the women and girls rounded up to provide sex to Japanese soldiers at Imperial Japanese Army brothels before and during the war.
The visit would come amid signs of a rapprochement between the two Asian neighbors, whose relations have been badly strained over the comfort women and other war-related issues.
On Nov. 2, Abe and Park held their first one-on-one summit since they took office in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Afterward, Abe said he and Park agreed to speed up talks to resolve the festering dispute, keeping in mind that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties.
In light of the meeting, Tokyo and Seoul have been aiming to more rapidly resolve the issue. Working-level talks between senior Japanese and South Korean diplomats have been held twice, though there has been no apparent breakthrough.
South Korea has been calling on Japan to settle the issue in a manner acceptable to the surviving women, such as through an apology and compensation.
Japan, which held the Korean Peninsula under colonial rule from 1910 to 1945, maintains that the matter of compensation was settled under the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic ties.
Despite that official position, Japan set up the nonofficial Asian Women’s Fund, a pool of private donations set up at Tokyo’s initiative in 1995 and managed through 2007, to provide money in a form of atonement to former comfort women.
Japan is also demanding that South Korea remove a statue of a girl symbolizing the comfort women erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.