Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lee presses Japan to resolve 'comfort women' issue

Lee presses Japan to resolve 'comfort women' issue

President Lee Myung-bak pressed Japan to take sincere steps to resolve long-running grievances over Tokyo's wartime sexual enslavement of Korean women, saying the act was a violation of "universal human rights and historic justice."

Lee made the remarks during a Liberation Day address marking Korea's independence from Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, as tensions between the two countries have been running high after Lee's surprise visit last week to South Korea's easternmost islets of Dokdo, which Tokyo claims as its own.

Historians say that tens of thousands of Asian women, mostly Koreans, were forced to work at front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Victims of sexual slavery have been euphemistically called "comfort women."

"Japan is a close neighbor, a friend that shares basic values and an important partner that we should work with to open the future.

However, we have to point out that chain links tangled in the history of Korea-Japan relations are hampering the common march toward a better tomorrow in the Northeast Asian region, as well as bilateral ties," Lee said.

"Particularly, the issue involving the mobilization of 'comfort women' by the imperial Japanese military goes beyond relations between Korea and Japan," he said. "It was a breach of women's rights committed during wartime as well as a violation of universal human rights and historic justice. We urge Japan to take responsible measures in this regard." (Yonhap)

Japanese-born scholar praises Lee’s Dokdo visit

Yuji Hosaka
By Kim Rahn

President Lee Myung-bak’s visit to Dokdo last week is the strongest repudiation of Japan’s territorial claim, sending a clear message to the world that the islets belong to Korea and are under its control, a Dokdo researcher said, Wednesday.

According to Yuji Hosaka, a Japanese scholar who is a naturalized Korean, the state head’s visit showed South Korea controls Dokdo more effectively than any research paper or historical evidence.

The chief of the Dokdo Research Institute of Sejong University said Lee’s landing on the islets, made near the end of his term, was a comprehensive response to Japan’s claims and its neglect of the sexual slavery issue during the last five years of his term, adding it was timely.

“Since last December when Lee had a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Lee called for Japan to apologize to and compensate the former sex slaves. But Japan ignored this, bringing up the Dokdo issue instead. At the statue of a girl representing Korean victims of wartime sex slavery, a Japanese man set up a wooden post on which he wrote “Dokdo is Japanese territory.” Japan was using Dokdo as a warning against Korea not to bring up the comfort women issue,” Hosaka said.

“Japan’s territorial provocation has continued, claiming Dokdo as its territory in middle school textbooks and the defense white paper since President Lee’s inauguration,” he said.

“I believe Lee needed to give a clear answer to the issue at the end of his term, both to Japan and to the public in Korea. He may have thought it would be now or never, because Korea is soon to enter an election season,” he added.

The professor said he was surprised that Lee was the first president to visit the islets. “To make it clear that Dokdo is Korean territory, such a visit should have been made far earlier by former presidents.”

Hosaka said Japan’s attitudes regarding the rocky islets mean Japan is attempting to make Dokdo a disputed territory, like the Kuril Islands over which Russia and Japan make sovereignty claims. He added in that sense, it is important for the head of the state to communicate firmly about the issue.

“When Russian Prime Minister and former President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kuril Islands, Japan was very discouraged. It worried the visit would ensure Russia’s control over the islands,” he said.

“Lee’s visit to Dokdo was the same; it was such a strong message, and by whatever means Japan protests, there are few cards left for Japan to play. The visit showed to the world that South Korea has the strong will to control Dokdo,” he said.

After Lee’s visit, there has been opinion that the President’s visit may facilitate Tokyo’s intention to make Dokdo a disputed territory, as it said it would establish an organization dedicated to managing territorial issues. But Hosaka said Japan would have done this whether or not Lee visited the islets.

“Whether Korea does anything about Dokdo or not, Japan has worked to make the issue big. The organization will be similar to Korea’s Northeast Asian History Foundation. Japan has already worked to raise the issue internationally, and the new organization will be only a unification of smaller departments related to the issue. It won’t be a meaningful threat,” he said.

The native Japanese said Korea’s international position has become so significant that Japan may not be able to provoke Korea recklessly.

“Especially in economic aspects, Japan and Korea are bound up with each other. Japan relies on Korea more than we do on it. Japan wants to sign a free trade agreement with Korea, which had already signed such pacts with many economic blocs,” he said.

“But for Korea, the agreement with Japan is not necessary. Korea has an advantage over Japan in many aspects. Whatever provocation Japan may make in the future, we don’t need to take it excessively seriously. Korea has grown,” he added.

Obtaining his doctorate in political science at Korea University, Hosaka began studying about Dokdo in 1995 after a student asked him to which country Dokdo belongs. In 2002, he wrote a thesis in which he said Dokdo belongs to Korea. He became a naturalized Korean in 2003.

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