Park Geun-hye

Park Geun-hye urges Tokyo to stand by apology for 'comfort women'

South Korean president says Tokyo would find itself isolated if it went back on 1995 apology for wartime sexual enslavement of Asian women

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2014, 11:59am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 5:50am

South Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday warned Japan would face isolation if it pushed ahead with a move to revisit an apology over wartime sex slavery.

Her warning, in a speech marking the anniversary of a 1919 anti-Japanese uprising, coincided with the opening of a rare exhibition in Seoul on "comfort women", a Japanese euphemism for women who were forced into military brothels during the second world war.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is moving to reconsider a 1995 apology for the wartime sexual slavery, putting further stress on already frayed ties between the two neighbours.

"Historical truth is in testimony from the survivors. Japan would only bring isolation on itself if it turns a deaf ear to their testimony and sweeps it under the rug for political benefits", Park said.

Park called on Japan to follow Germany in repenting its past wrongs so that the two countries could put bitter memories behind them and "move forward for a new era of co-operation, peace and prosperity".

"I hope Japan extricates itself from denial of history and starts making a new history of truth and reconciliation", she said.

Hundreds of protestors were killed in a 1919 crackdown on widespread demonstrations by Koreans who were rallying for independence from Japan, which occupied the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

In Seoul, a few hundred actors and residents on Saturday re-enacted the bloodbath outside a former prison where pro-independence activists were held.

Art performances and anti-Japanese rallies also took place in Seoul and other provincial cities with greater intensity than in past years, reflecting a recent rise in anti-Japanese sentiment.

The issue of the sex slaves has stoked regional tensions, with South Korea and China insisting Japan face up to its wartime abuse of women from across occupied Asia.

On display at the exhibition at the History Museum in Seoul were comics featuring the plight of wartime sex slaves as well as artwork by survivors.

The display included a diary kept by an operator of a second world war Japanese military brothel, which South Korea says is material evidence to prove coercion in the sex slavery.

The comics made their debut at an international festival in France last month, sparking a protest from Japanese ambassador to France Yoichi Suzuki.

In 1993, after hearing testimony from 16 Korean women, a statement issued in the name of Japan's then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged official complicity in the coercion of women into sex slavery.

It offered "sincere apologies and remorse" to the women and vowed to face the historical facts.

But repeated wavering on the issue among senior right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.

In remarks in 2007 that triggered a region-wide uproar, Abe, in his first term as prime minister, said there was no evidence that Japan directly forced women to work as sex slaves.

Last week, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told parliament that the government "would like to consider" setting up a verification team with academics who would look again at the women's accounts.

Tomiichi Murayama, who issued an apology in 1995 when he was prime minister, said on Thursday that the revision of the landmark apology would not serve the country's interests.

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, were forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels. But a minority of right-wing Japanese insist there was no official involvement by the state or military and that the women were common prostitutes.