The leaders of South Korea and Japan resumed formal talks Monday after a 3½-year freeze and agreed to try to resolve the decades-old issue of Korean women forced into Japanese military-run brothels during World War II.
The agreement is a step forward but not a breakthrough. Ties between the two countries have sagged to one of their lowest ebbs since the late 2012 inauguration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who takes a more hawkish, nationalistic stance than many of his predecessors. Seoul believes that Abe seeks to obscure Japan’s brutal colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula in 1910-1945.
The biggest source of friction is over Japanese responsibility for wartime sex slaves, who were euphemistically called “comfort women.” Historians say tens of thousands of women from around Asia, many of them Korean, were sent to front-line military brothels to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.
Japan has apologized many times before, but many South Koreans see the statements and past efforts at private compensation as insufficient.
Abe hoped to weaken a 1993 apology but later promised not to do so following protests from South Korea and elsewhere.
On Monday, Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed to try harder to settle the issue through dialogue, according to Park’s office.
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