Park urges Abe to make decision on wartime sex slavery

November 13, 2015

SEOUL/BEIJING (Yonhap) — President Park Geun-hye pressed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday to make a decision to resolve the issue of former South Korean sex slaves for Japan’s World War II soldiers.

Seoul-Tokyo relations remain badly frayed largely because of Japan’s refusal to atone for its past wrongdoings stemming from its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-45. One of the key pending issues is a demand by former Korean sex slaves for an apology and compensation from Japan.

Park warned that the issue would become “a heavy historic burden” on the Japanese government, as well as on future generations in Japan, unless it is addressed.

The issue has gained urgency in recent years as the victims are dying off. In 2007, more than 120 South Korean victims were alive, but the number has since dropped to 47, with their average age standing at nearly 90.

“I expect the Japanese government to quickly present a solution that is acceptable to the victims and deemed reasonable by the Korean people so that the Japanese government will help restore the honor of the 47 surviving victims and heal their wounds before they pass away,” Park said in a joint interview with major news agencies in the Asia-Pacific region.

The interview came days before Yonhap News Agency is set to host the executive board meeting of the Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies.

In a faxed statement to Yonhap News Agency, China’s foreign ministry said Friday that Japan must properly resolve the issue of its wartime sexual slavery.

Asked about the latest call by Park over the issue, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei replied in the statement, “We hope that Japan can properly deal with history-related issues, including the issue of comfort women, by facing up to and deeply reflecting upon its history of aggression.”

Earlier this month, Park met with Abe in their first bilateral summit and they agreed to expedite consultations for the early resolution of the issue, without specifying a time frame.

“I believe now is high time to make a decision to attend to the wounds from the past and heal them,” Park said.

Park’s comments came just days after South Korea and Japan failed to produce any specific deal in their latest round of talks on the issue.

The two neighbors plan to hold the next round of talks as early as possible. No specific date has been set yet

South Korea demands Japan acknowledge its responsibility for the sex slaves, while Japan insists the issue was settled under the normalization treaty of 1965.

Separately, Park offered a conditional summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

“There is no reason not to hold an inter-Korean summit if a breakthrough comes in solving the North Korean nuclear issue and progress is made in improving the South-North relationship,” Park said.

“But it will be possible only when the North comes forward for a proactive and sincere dialogue. What counts most is North Korea’s sincerity and determination to act on its words.”

Despite international pressure, North Korea has vowed to develop its economy and nuclear arsenal in tandem, viewing its nuclear programs as a powerful deterrent against what it claims is Washington’s hostile policy.

Park’s two liberal predecessors held summit talks with then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the late father of the current leader, in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007, respectively. Kim Jong-il died of heart failure in 2011.

Park called on North Korea to faithfully implement what has been agreed upon and gradually build trust with South Korea.

South and North Korea have agreed to hold high-level talks under the August deal that defused military tensions sparked by a land mine blast blamed on North Korea.

Still, North Korea has remained silent on South Korea’s repeated offer to have preparatory contact for high-level talks.