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On March 1, South Korean President Park Geun-hye renewed her call for Japan to come clean on its colonial and wartime atrocities, including the sexual enslavement of women. Her speech was delivered on the anniversary of the anti-Japanese uprising by Koreans in 1919 and in a year when South Koreans will celebrate the 70th anniversary of their liberation from colonial rule and quietly mark the 50th anniversary of the normalization of bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

It was not until two decades after the end of Japan’s colonial rule that the U.S. brokered normalization between South Korea and Japan in 1965. Given Seoul’s precarious position facing a hostile North Korea and its dependence on the U.S. for military support, it was not in a position to resist Washington’s pressures to strike a deal. The Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea required Tokyo to provide grants and soft loans worth $800 million as quasi-reparations, with Seoul agreeing to make no further claims for compensation. Problematically, while the joint communique noted the “regrets” (ikan) and “deep remorse” (fukaku hansei) expressed by the Japanese side, it was not accompanied by any specific mea culpa by the Japanese, and no reconciliation initiatives. It is not surprising that this unpromising start has not led to a warming of relations.

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