South Korean president Park Geun-hye has distanced herself even further from Japan, telling the BBC that a summit between the neighboring countries would be pointless without a formal apology for atrocities committed under Japanese colonial rule. The issue of “comfort women” – women who were forced into prostitution at Japanese military brothels during World War II – has been a sticking point for Park since taking office.
“These are women who have spent their blossoming years in hardship and suffering, and spent the rest of their life in ruins,” Park said. “None of these cases have been resolved or addressed; the Japanese have not changed any of their positions with regard to this. If Japan continues to stick to the same historical perceptions and repeat its past comments, then what purpose would a summit serve? Perhaps it would be better not to have one.”
Park, who was sworn in as South Korea’s first female president last February, has yet to meet with Japanese officials. She has taken a hard-line stance on North Korea – but has also heaped criticism on Japan.
Last month, Park told U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Japan risked permanently damaging diplomatic relations without apologizing for the wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women.
“I know Japan is an important country to cooperate with for peace and stability in Northeast Asia… but trust has not been established,” Park told Sec. Hagel. “With lack of trust in Japan as well as its denial for the inhumane treatment to women during World War II, the whole Korean citizenry is very upset.”
Park’s latest statements echoing October’s warning, she added: “Relations with Japan are not a matter of summits; this is a problem that needs to be solved with the Korean people.”
The diplomatic strife between South Korea and Japan is also proving to be a thorn in America’s side, as the quarrelling countries are the U.S.’ top allies in Asia. Three-way talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, scheduled to take place in Washington D.C. later this week, could be complicated by Park’s unwillingness to directly engage Japanese officials.
“Speculation is growing of a possible return to the six-party talks, in which South Korea and Japan are both participants,” AFP reported. “Their envoys on North Korea continue to meet for discussions, but analysts say a Park-Abe summit would be important in presenting a united front to Pyongyang.”
Apart from the comfort women issue, South Korea and Japan have an ongoing territorial dispute in the Sea of Japan. The Liancourt Rocks, known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan, are claimed by both countries. Yesterday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry asked the Japanese government to remove a YouTube video that promoted the islets as Japanese territory.