The Korea Herald


S. Korea, Japan set for showdown on 'comfort women'

By 배지숙

Published : Dec. 26, 2015 - 10:16

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Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida on Friday announces the ministerial talks with his Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se at his Tokyo office. Yonhap Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida on Friday announces the ministerial talks with his Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se at his Tokyo office. Yonhap

South Korea announced Friday it will hold foreign ministerial talks with Japan next week on the "comfort women" issue, raising hopes for a breakthrough in efforts to clear one of the biggest hurdles to their closer diplomatic ties.

Japan's top diplomat Fumio Kishida plans to visit Seoul for the meeting with his South Korean counterpart Yun Byung-se on Monday, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said.

They will "exchange opinions on pending issues between the countries and issues of mutual concern, including the Japanese military comfort women issue," it said in a statement.

On the eve of their talks, the two sides will also hold director general-level consultations on the issue in Seoul, which will be the 12th round.

Yun and Kishida are widely expected to focus on resolving the row over hundreds of thousands of Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II. Korea was under Japan's brutal colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

The long-standing dispute has been a thorn in the relationship between the neighboring countries despite growing economic and cultural exchanges.

South Korea insists that Japan come clean on its wartime atrocity for forward-looking relations. It calls for Tokyo's formal apology and compensation for the victims, mostly in their 80s and 90s.

Japan, however, claims that it has no more legal responsibility, as all related legal issues were settled in the

1965 deal to normalize bilateral diplomatic ties. But it has also said it is willing to provide those victims with financial assistance on a humanitarian basis.

Both sides admit to the need for an early resolution to the feud.

In their first-ever summit in early November, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan agreed to facilitate relevant negotiations.

Park openly said her government wants to resolve the issue by the end of this year.

In a positive development for Seoul-Tokyo ties, a Japanese reporter indicted for defaming Park was acquitted last week by a South Korean court. South Korea's Constitutional Court also recently refused to hear a petition against the 1965 agreement between the two nations.

The upcoming Yun-Kishida meeting had been unexpected before Japanese media reported Thursday that Abe instructed his foreign minister to travel to Seoul next week.

In Tokyo, Kishida told reporters that he's ready to do his best to produce a deal on the comfort women issue.

"We have been trying to accelerate talks and seek an early settlement. This is part of that effort," he said.

Japanese media reported the minister would bring a package of proposals that include letters from Abe to the victims and the creation of a 1 billion won (US$850,000) fund to help the comfort women.

It remains unclear whether South Korea will accept Japan's offer, whatever it is.

South Korean officials are taking a cautious stance.

Kishida's trip would be "very meaningful itself. He is unlikely to come here empty-handed. But it's hard to predict the outcome (of talks)," a government official said.

Another official said what's more important is whether or not the victims can accept Japan's offer.

The issue is highly emotional and political in a country that is scheduled to hold general elections in April next year.

Many Koreans accuse the Abe administration of refusing to offer a sincere apology for Japan's wartime wrongdoings. (Yonhap)