Park Geun Hye Looks Toward Improving Relations with Japan

D-Bo , June 22, 2015, 9:46 a.m.

President Park Geun-hye said Monday that South Korea and Japan should unload their "heavy burden of history" toward a future-oriented partnership for reconciliation and co-prosperity. Seoul and Tokyo are in a stand-off over a divergent interpretation of their shared history, especially the so-called "comfort women" issue. South Korea has urged Japan to admit its legal responsibility for forcing Korean women into sexual servitude at Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Japan has claimed the matter has been settled in the 1965 treaty to normalize diplomatic relations. "This year is an historic opportunity for the two countries to move toward a future," she said at a reception hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, citing the 50th anniversary of the normalization of their diplomatic relations. "It's important to create a mood to put down the heavy burden of history with the mind of reconciliation and co-prosperity," Park said.

In Tokyo, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se also read the message from Park at a reception hosted by the South Korean Embassy, which was attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Abe, for his part, stressed the importance of partnerships between the regional powers. "South Korea and Japan are each other's most important neighbors," he said. "South Korea-Japan cooperation is very important to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region."

Earlier in the day, Yun paid a courtesy call on Abe and delivered Park's verbal message. She said 2015 can be the starting year for new Seoul-Tokyo relations. Abe told Yun that it is important to be able to "talk frankly with each other" to resolve problems. In a meeting with Abe's special envoy, Fukushiro Nukaga, Park expressed hope that Japan will uphold the position held by its previous governments on their history.

Park said Seoul and Tokyo should heal the wounds of the past and create a new momentum for their relations, in an apparent reference to the sex slaves and other historical disputes stemming from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Park urged Abe to uphold the position on the recognition of history by the previous Japanese administrations in his speech set for Aug. 15 to ensure that the sides can move toward reconciliation and cooperation.

Nukaga told Park that Abe has vowed to stand by Japan's two previous statements of apology -- the 1995 Murayama and the 1993 Kono statements that have served as the basis for Japan's relations with South Korea. Nukaga also said Abe has said his heart aches when he thinks of the painful experiences of the former sex slaves. Abe's Cabinet angered South Korea last year with its attempt to "review" the Kono Statement, a move that was widely seen by South Korea as an attempt to undermine the apology's credibility.

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