Ask a Korean! News: Korean President Urges Japanese Government to Address the Comfort Women Issue

March 1 is a major holiday in Korea, commemorating the nationwide protest against the Japanese imperial rule in 1919. In his March 1 memorial presidential address, President Lee Myeong-Bak took a direct aim to the Japanese government and said:
“For the two countries [Korea and Japan] to intimately cooperate as true companions, the true courage and wisdom not to avoid the historical truth is necessary above all. In particular, among many current issues, the Comfort Women issue is a humanitarian issue that needs to be concluded quickly. The grandmothers, who carried their pain in their hearts, are well past their late 80s. If they pass away without resolving the burden of their hearts while they were alive, it is not the case that all problems will disappear; rather, Japan will forever lose the opportunity to resolve this issue. This is why I urge the Japanese government to take a more active posture.”
Separately, President Lee also sent surviving Comfort Women gifts and a letter, which said he spoke only about the Comfort Women issue to the Japanese Prime Minister in the summit meeting held last December.

Earlier in his administration, Lee was not particularly pressing on the historical issues with Japan. But reportedly, the turning point for Lee came last May. Although Lee visited the tsunami-ravaged areas of Japan to deliver Korea’s good will and material support, the Japanese government notified the Korean delegation that the Prime Minister intended to raise the claim that the historically disputed Liancourt Rocks were Japanese territory in the summit meeting with President Lee. Although the issue was not actually raised in the summit meeting, President Lee reportedly was bitterly disappointed to find that his goodwill toward a disaster-struck country was returned with another round of dispute.

In the meantime, Korean government is gearing up to make the arbitration claim under the Treaty on Economic Cooperation Regarding Property and Petition Rights if Japan’s silence on this issue continues. (For more background on this point, please refer to this post.) The Ministry of Foreign Affairs formed a task force dedicated to this issue last September, and the task force reportedly created a short list of arbiters to choose, as well as attorneys to represent the Korean side. The National Assembly backed this effort by budgeting more than double the amount that the executive requested on this issue. If this issue does come down to arbitration, it will surely be the most significant moment in the Comfort Women issue.

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