President Park Geun Hye Hopeful to Resolve Comfort Women Issue with Japan

Michael Song, Oct. 30, 2015, 9:05 a.m.

President Park Geun-hye expressed hope Friday that Seoul and Tokyo could resolve this year the issue of former South Korean sex slaves for Japan's World War II soldiers, in the latest pressure on Japan ahead of the crucial summit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next week.

"It is important for Japan to quickly offer measures to resolve the issue in a way that victims can accept and South Koreans can understand," Park said in a written interview with Japan's Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun newspapers. The comments came three days before Park sits down for talks with Abe -- the first bilateral summit between the leaders of the two neighbors in more than three years.

The issue of wartime sex slaves -- the key sticking point in bilateral relations -- could be high on the agenda for their talks. "The summit should serve as a chance to resolve the issue of 'comfort women,'" Park said, referring to elderly South Korean women who were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II. South Korea demands Japan acknowledge its responsibility for the sex slaves, while Japan insists the issue was settled under the normalization treaty of 1965.

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. Park also said the wrong perception of history is to blame for bilateral friction, noting South Korea is not holding back the ties. The summit was set up as South Korea hosts a trilateral summit with Abe and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday.

A trilateral summit has not been held since 2012 due to a territorial dispute between China and Japan, as well as Japan's attempts to whitewash its wartime atrocities and colonial occupation. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45 and controlled much of China in the early part of the 20th century.

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