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Japan, South Korea agree to work to resolve WWII sex slave issue

Japan, South Korea agree to work to resolve WWII sex slave issue
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Highlights

After a 3 year freeze, the leaders of South Korea and Japan resumed formal talks Monday and agreed to accelerate efforts to resolve the decades-old issue of Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II.

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After a 3 year freeze, the leaders of South Korea and Japan resumed formal talks Monday and agreed to accelerate efforts to resolve the decades-old issue of Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II.


The agreement can be considered a step forward but not a breakthrough. Ties between the two countries have sagged to one of their lowest ebbs since the late 2012 inauguration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who takes a more hawkish, nationalistic stance than many of his predecessors. Seoul believes that Abe seeks to obscure Japan's brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula from 1910-1945.

The biggest source of friction is over Japanese responsibility for wartime sex slaves, who were euphemistically called "comfort women." Historians say tens of thousands of women from around Asia, many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.

Japan has apologized many times before, but many South Koreans see the statements and past efforts at private compensation as insufficient.

Abe hoped to revise a 1993 apology but later promised not to do so following protests from South Korea and elsewhere.

On Monday, Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed to make an effort to settle the issue through dialogue at an early date, according to Park's office.

"President Park noted the issue of 'comfort women' is being the biggest obstacle against efforts to improve bilateral ties. She stressed that the issue must be quickly settled in a way that our people can accept," Park's senior adviser for foreign affairs and national security, Kim Kyou-hyun, said.

Abe confirmed the agreement, telling reporters that he and Park agreed to speed up talks on the issue, according to Japan's Kyodo News. Abe earlier told Park that he wants to work with Park to map out a new future between the countries.

"On the issue of comfort women, I think we shouldn't leave this obstacle to our future generations," Abe said. Their closely watching meeting came a day after they held a three-way summit with China's premier and agreed to improve ties strained over history and territory disputes. Many in China also harbor similar resentment against Japan.

Nothing major came from Sunday's trilateral summit in Seoul. But just sitting down together was seen as a step forward after the gap in such meetings, which used to be an annual affair. A joint statement said the three agreed Sunday to try to resolve history-related issues by "facing history squarely and advancing toward the future" and boost exchanges and cooperate on economic, cultural and other sectors.

Despite their harsh history, South Korea, Japan and China are closely linked. China is the largest trading partner for both South Korea and Japan. South Korea is Japan's third-largest trading partner and vice versa.

The last two-way summit between the leaders of Japan and South Korea happened in May 2012, when Park's predecessor, Lee Myung-bak, met with then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Park has faced calls at home to improve ties with Japan.

South Korea and Japan together host about 80,000 U.S. troops, the core of America's military presence in the Asia-Pacific. Washington wants to solidify its alliance with the two countries to better deal with a rising China and a North Korean threat.

Park and Abe agreed Monday to solidify the South Korea-Japan-U.S. alliance to deal with North Korean threats. On Sunday, they and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said they would make further efforts to resume stalled negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
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