SEOUL: South Korean President Park GeunHye held a rare meeting with a Japanese politician on Friday as she received visiting Tokyo governor Yoichi Masuzoe despite a virtual freeze in diplomatic ties.
Masuzoe made a courtesy call at the presidential Blue House, which Park used to reiterate Seoul’s demand that Tokyo make proper redress for grievances related to its 1910 to 45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.
In particular, she highlighted the plight of so-called “comfort women” forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, the Blue House said.
“The issue of comfort women is not merely a bilateral one, but an issue related with general human rights,” Park was quoted as saying.
Around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea but also China, Taiwan, Indonesia and other Asian countries, were forcibly recruited into the wartime brothels.
While mainstream Japanese opinion holds that the wartime government was culpable, some right-wing politicians including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continue to cast doubt, claiming the brothels were staffed by professional prostitutes.
The equivocation is a huge irritation in Tokyo’s relations with East Asia and with South Korea in particular.
“Improper statements by poli–ticians, especially over historical issues, add to the difficulties in bilateral relations,” Park told Masuzoe.
The meeting came a day after the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on Japan to accept full blame for pressing the comfort women into sexual slavery, and to agree to an inde–pendent inquiry into the issue.
Since taking office 18 months ago, Park has barely met any Japanese officials.
US President Barack Obama brokered a trilateral summit with Park and Abe in March, but the meeting failed to mend the diplomatic rift between Washington’s two key military allies in Asia.
Call of UN
The United Nations on late Thursday called on Japan to accept full blame for pressing women from Korea and other Asian nations into sexual slavery during World War II.
“We want Japan to make the kind of statement that the families and the women themselves—the few who are still surviving—can recognize as an unambiguous, uninhibited acceptance of total responsibility,” said Nigel Rodley, head of the UN Human Rights Committee.
In a report issued after a hearing on Japan’s human rights record on Thursday, the committee said it was time for a wide-ranging probe.
“What’s important for the committee is that it is indeed a true, independent, effective and impartial investigation,” said Cees Flinterman, its depu-ty chairman.
“That would mean that the Japanese government could involve also outsiders, non-Japanese, that could help strengthen the independence. It could be the way forward,” he told reporters.
The committee said victims and their families should be given access to justice, that all evidence should be disclosed, that Japanese schoolbooks must deal with the issue frankly, and that denial and defamation of victims be roundly condemned.
The victims have failed to obtain redress for their treatment despite repeated efforts in the decades since the war, and their numbers are dwindling as the years pass.
Japanese courts have dis–missed claims for reparation and rejected calls for criminal probes, citing the passing of the statute of limitations.
Japan issued a landmark apology in 1993—known as the Kono Statement—and mainstream public opinion holds that the wartime government was culpable.
Japan recently held a review of the issue which upheld the apology but asserted there was no evidence to corroborate the women’s testimony, sparking regional anger.
“I suspect that the Kono Statement would have sufficed, had it not been for the fact that it has so evidently been put into question,” said Rodley.