Japan, S Korea to continue talks on 'comfort women'

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) shakes hands with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye (right) ahead of their summit at the presidential Blue House in Seoul on November 2, 2015.

SEOUL - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had his first official bilateral meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday morning at the Blue House in Seoul, in what was also the first summit between Japan and South Korea in about 3½ years.

The meeting lasted for about an hour and 45 minutes. Afterward, Abe told the press that he intends to continue talks with South Korea regarding so-called comfort women, a key issue between the two countries.

"We have agreed to accelerate talks to reach an agreement as soon as possible," Abe said.

The two governments began talks at the level of foreign ministry director generals in April 2014, and specific discussions will be entrusted to those negotiations.

Abe does not intend to accept the demand for additional compensation by South Korea, as he feels the compensation issue was legally "settled completely and finally" by the 1965 Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation between Japan and the Republic of Korea. The agreement was signed with the Japan-Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty.

After the meeting, Abe told reporters: "Regarding the comfort women issue, we need to construct a future-oriented cooperative relationship without leaving obstacles for future generations."

Abe also said: "It's very important to have frank discussions about various pending issues. I think this is a start for improving the Japan-South Korea relationship."

In a commemorative photo session prior to the summit talks, Park smiled as she shook hands with Abe.

The meeting started around 10 a.m. with a small number of people in attendance. The number grew from 11 a.m. with the addition of officials from both governments.

During the talks, Park said: "In this year that marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the treaty that normalised bilateral diplomatic ties, both countries must overcome history and create a turning point from which we depart together for the future."

In response, Abe said, "We'd like to make efforts with President Park to construct a new era of a future-oriented Japan-South Korea relationship."

Abe apparently referred during the meeting to such issues as lawsuits by former South Korean workers demanding compensation for allegedly being forced to work during the war. He also referred to a former chief of The Sankei Shimbun's Seoul Bureau, for whom prosecutors in South Korea demanded 18 months in prison for allegedly defaming Park in his column.

Abe is said to have urged Seoul to lift its ban on imports of Japanese marine products as soon as possible, and the two leaders exchanged opinions about China's advances in the South China Sea.

A joint press conference by Abe and Park was not held and no joint statement was issued.

This was the first Japan-South Korea summit since then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda held talks with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak in Beijing in May 2012. The Japan-South Korea relationship chilled for a long time after Lee visited the Takeshima islands in Shimane Prefecture in August 2012, though Tokyo asked him not to.