In a historic move that is set to usher in a new chapter in Tokyo-Seoul relations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has finally offered a blanket apology to South Korea for the abuse of the so-called comfort women forced into Japanese military brothels during World War II. Mr Abe announced a package of 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund for compensating victims, marking the closure of an emotive issue that has clouded relations between Japan and South Korea all these years.
“Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women,” Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in Tokyo on December 28. “The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women, and the government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.”
The apology has been accepted and welcomed by South Korean President Park Geun Hye.
Ms Park struck an upbeat note on the future trajectory of Japan-South Korea relations, saying the agreement could be a new starting point for relations with Japan, according to the president’s office.
The meeting between Ms Park and Mr Abe last year, the first bilateral summit between the countries in three years, set the stage for the breakthrough announcement by Tokyo on December 28.
Memories of colonisation of the Korean peninsula by Japan from 1910 to 1945 which was accompanied by excesses, still rankle with most Koreans. The visits by Japanese leaders to Yakusuni shrine, a memorial built by Tokyo for its war dead, have fanned this sense of resentment.
Mr Abe’s Dec 28 apology, therefore, signals the end of a chapter, a closed book, as some analysts have said. According to historians and various estimates, around 50,000 to 200,000 women — many of them Korean — served in Japan’s military brothels.
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