'Comfort women' issue still vexes 50 years after relations normalized

'Comfort women' issue still vexes 50 years after relations normalized
Lee Yong Soo (L) of South Korea speaks during a meeting as part of the 12th Asian Solidarity Conference for the Issue of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, at Japan's House of Representatives office building in Tokyo on June 2, 2014.

SEOUL - This year marks the 50th anniversary of normalized relations between Japan and South Korea. In 2005, the two countries hosted more than 700 commemorative events to celebrate the 40th anniversary, but things are different this time around.

An official logo has yet to be chosen for this anniversary, and it remains uncertain whether the ceremony to usher in the 50th year will be held this month as planned.

The biggest reason behind all this is the chilly relationship between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Back in 2005, then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and then South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed to designate that year as the Japan-Korea Friendship Year. However, there has been no summit between Abe and Park, which is hampering efforts by government officials, said a person close to the government.

Relations are being strained mostly by the so-called "comfort women" issue involving the former Imperial Japanese Army. Park, South Korea's first female president, has effectively set progress on this issue as a prerequisite for a summit with Abe. Indeed, comfort women support groups in South Korea have been calling for an official apology, as well as legal and other compensation by the Japanese government.

The Japanese government's position is that such matters were settled by the agreement between Tokyo and Seoul to settle problems concerning property and other claims when the two nations normalized diplomatic relations in 1965. The agreement states that the problems concerning property rights and other interests during Japan's annexation of Korea (1910-1945) have been settled "completely and finally." Tokyo has maintained that the agreement settled the former comfort women's claims as well, including their rights to compensation.

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