South Korean President Park Geun-hye and visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed Monday to speed up talks on Japan's wartime sex slavery of Korean women to reach an agreement on the issue at an earliest possible date, Park's office said.[Special coverage]
Kim Kyou-Hyun, senior foreign affairs secretary to President Park, told reporters that the two leaders agreed on it with the fact in mind that this year is a turning point marking the 50th anniversary of normalized diplomatic ties between Seoul and Tokyo.
Park and Abe held their first-ever one-on-one summit in more than three years in South Korea's presidential Blue House on the sidelines of a trilateral leadership meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang that was held in Seoul Sunday.
The agreement between Park and Abe can be considered advancement in the bilateral relations.
South Korea has called for Abe to make a "sincere" apology and properly compensate for Korean "comfort women," who were forced into sex slavery for Japanese military brothels during World War II.
Japan, however, has claimed that the issue was resolved in a 1965 treaty that normalized diplomatic ties between Seoul and Tokyo. Several rounds of diplomatic talks had been held for the issue, ending up with no fruits.
South Korean historians estimate that more than 200,000 women, mostly from the Korean peninsula, were forced to serve as sex slaves during the devastating war. Surviving sex slavery victims are gradually passing away as their age averages nearly 90, with only 47 still alive in South Korea.
The South Korean president has maintained a hard-line stance on historical issues, especially the "comfort women issue. Park had encountered Abe in several multilateral summits, but she had refused to sit one-on-one with the Japanese prime minister, since he took office in February 2013, due to his distorted perception of history.
During the one-on-one meeting with Abe, Park stressed the need for resolving the sex slavery issue. The meeting ran for an hour, 30 minutes longer than earlier scheduled. The extended meeting, attended by officials in charge of economy, security and foreign affairs from both sides, continued for about 40 minutes.
"I anticipate that today's meeting becomes a broader and sincere dialogue that can cure the painful history, so it serves as a precious opportunity to develop bilateral relations," Park said during her introductory remarks for the extended summit meeting.
Park reiterated her position that Seoul and Tokyo should make a turning point to overcome history and leave for a future together this year, which marks the 50th anniversary of normalized diplomatic ties between the two countries.
In response, Abe stressed the need for a "frank" exchange of views between leaders of the two countries.
"I have said that it is necessary to frankly exchange the leaders-level opinion and that a door is open to dialogue," Abe said, noting that the first-ever bilateral summit would be very significant to the peoples of the two nations.
Abe arrived in Seoul Sunday for the trilateral leadership meeting with Park and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Seoul on Sunday, also the first in three and a half years.
The Seoul-Tokyo summit was last held in May 2012 between then South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and then Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.
Abe has infuriated its neighboring countries, especially South Korea and China, since he returned to power in late 2012 as he paid respect to the disputed Yasukuni shrine, a symbol of Japan's war of aggression and colonization because the shrine honors 14 convicted Class-A Japanese war criminals during World War II.
In the latest attempt by the Abe government to whitewash wartime history, three Japanese Cabinet ministers and scores of lawmakers paid homage to the war shrine on its annual fall festival, while Abe -- although he didn't visit -- made a ritual offering.