Lee urges compensation for sex slaves; Noda says issue is settled
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak urged Japan Sunday to have the “courage” to compensate ageing wartime sex slaves before it is too late to let the two nations move forward.
Lee told Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto that the issue had prevented their countries from becoming “true partners” in the years since World War II.
Japan, which insists the issue was legally settled four decades ago, promised only that it would “think carefully” from a humanitarian standpoint, but stopped well short of offering a fresh apology, officials said.
“South Korea and Japan should become real partners for peace and stability in this region,” the visiting South Korean president told his opposite number.
“And for that to happen, we need to have the courage to resolve as a priority the issue of military comfort women, which has been a stumbling block between our countries,” Lee said.
Comfort women, a euphemism used to describe women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops before and during World War II, came to widespread notice in the early 1990s when ageing victims went public.
A dwindling band of women have since vociferously demanded compensation and an apology from Japan, which mounted a brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.
Last week supporters held their 1,000th weekly protest at Tokyo’s embassy in Seoul, unveiling a statue of a young woman in traditional Korean dress who they said represented the thousands of women forced to work in Japan’s military brothels.
Tokyo has repeatedly apologized for occupation-era crimes but has consistently rejected South Korea’s proposal for specific talks on the comfort women, insisting all issues were settled in a 1965 accord normalizing relations between the two countries, which also included a financial settlement.
Japan maintains that it was up to the then military government in Seoul to disburse compensation appropriately.
Speaking after the meeting, Noda said he had asked Lee to help ensure the removal of the statue outside the Japanese mission, but stressed that Tokyo’s stance on the issue was unchanged.
“I told him that our nation’s position is as he is already aware,” he told reporters.
Lee had long shied away from a public discussion of the subject, which has rumbled in the background of relations for a number of years.
However, the issue came to the fore in August when a South Korean court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government not to negotiate with Tokyo over the women’s individual rights to seek compensation from Japan.
In their meeting, Lee attempted to persuade Japan to go beyond the 1965 agreement.
“The comfort women issue can be solved immediately if the Japanese government looks at things at a different perspective,” Lee told Noda, according to Seoul’s presidential spokesman.
“This is a matter of national sentiment and emotion rather than laws,” Lee said, urging Noda to make a “political” decision based on “warm heart”, rather than technical judgement.
“If there is no sincere measure, there will be second or third monuments like this whenever each old lady passes away,” Lee said, referring to the statue.
After arriving in Japan Saturday, Lee told a gathering of ethnic Koreans in Osaka that Tokyo must resolve the issue for the sake of future bilateral ties, or risk the “burden” remaining forever.
He said that the issue was becoming more urgent as the number of women known to have been enslaved diminished with elderly survivors dying off.
“Resolving this issue while they are alive will be of big help for the two countries to move forward toward the future,” he said.
I wouldn't remove those statues.