South Korean President Park Geun-hye in a news conference on Jan. 13 expressed willingness to engage in summit talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, saying there were many opportunities to do so.
In considering a response to a recent nuclear test by North Korea, the relationship between Japan and South Korea is extremely important. We hope to see the positive developments of an agreement forged between Japan and South Korea at the end of last year on the "comfort women" issue take solid shape.
The day after North Korea's nuclear test, Abe and Park talked on the phone, and affirmed the close cooperation between Japan, the United States and South Korea. Abe told Park, "Because we have an agreement (on the comfort women issue), on this important occasion we've been able to confirm between country leaders the collaboration between Japan and South Korea."
North Korea is pushing ahead with nuclear development. It has also already deployed a large number of missiles that put all areas of Japan and South Korea within range. Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development pose a common threat. It is essential for Japan and South Korea to collaborate with each other and the United States, their common ally.
Hitherto, the Park administration had placed emphasis on strengthening Seoul's relationship with Beijing, but in response to North Korea's nuclear test, the difference in the degree of enthusiasm between South Korea and China on the issue has stood out. It is probably a realistic approach for South Korea to coordinate with Japan and the United States and pressure China to cooperate.
Deterioration in the relationship between Japan and South Korea stemming from the comfort women issue previously caused cooperation in security between the two countries to come to a standstill. Cooperation on security is beneficial for both countries. We hope to stimulate discussion toward the conclusion of a General Security of Military Information Agreement between the two countries.
In order to further the cooperative relationship that the two countries need, effort is required to truly make the accord on the comfort women issue a "final and irreversible solution" as Japan says has been affirmed. To do this, it is necessary to gain consent from a large number of people in both countries.
In her news conference, Park stated, "There are restrictions in negotiations, and we cannot be 100 percent satisfied," and indicated that she would do her utmost to bring the public around. At the same time, she pointed out that when words and actions that hurt former comfort women emerge from Japan's government and media, it becomes harder to persuade the public.
In both countries, relocation of a statue symbolizing comfort women from in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul is probably the most tender issue among the public.
The South Korean government has promised that it will work toward an appropriate solution, while Japan sees relocation as the appropriate response, according to Abe. In Japan, some say that Tokyo should push for relocation as a condition for the Japanese government to contribute 1 billion yen to a fund for former comfort women that the South Korean government will set up.
Meanwhile, a public opinion poll in South Korea immediately after the two countries forged their accord found 66 percent were opposed to relocation of the statue.
In both Japan and South Korea, the statue is becoming a symbol of the comfort women issue. We must avoid a situation in which emotional confrontation over the relocation leaves the accord itself up in the air.
It is hoped that the South Korean government will make an effort to achieve relocation. But persuading the public is obviously no easy task. Both Japan and South Korea must steadily work to fulfill the agreement without forgetting sincerity.