Korea, Japan to resume sex slavery talks

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga speaks at a press conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on June 20, 2014.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Friday that Seoul and Tokyo plan to hold a fresh round of talks next week to resolve the issue of Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II, as they strive to taper differences in their historical perceptions.

Lee Sang-deok, director general for Northeast Asian affairs at the ministry, is scheduled to meet with Junichi Ihara, director general for Asian and Oceanian affairs at Tokyo's Foreign Ministry on Nov. 27 in Seoul. The consultations were initiated in April and the latest session will be the fifth.

Korea is expected to press hard for a compromise as it deems the resolution of the issue as a must to improve bilateral ties. Both sides have in recent months been striving for reconciliation ahead of the 50th anniversary of the relationship's normalization next year.

Though a one-on-one summit appears implausible for now, President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Beijing last month and agreed to "spur" the director-general-level talks to bring progress, according to Cheong Wa Dae.

Korea is also seeking to hold a foreign ministers' meeting with China and Japan by the end of the year after Park expressed hopes for what would be the first trilateral summit since May 2012.

The outlook for a breakthrough still appears murky, however, given Abe's infamous revisionist views and growing hard-line voices in Japan in the wake of the Asahi Shimbun's recent retraction of articles based on testimonies by writer and former soldier Seiji Yoshida who said he had taken part in abducting some 200 women on Jejudo Island.

During the last meeting in September, Ihara is believed to have presented some kind of proposal but it apparently fell far short of Seoul's expectations.

With Japan repeatedly claiming sovereignty over Korea's Dokdo islets, the negotiations could become even more complex if Tokyo looks to strike a deal akin to its recent four-point agreement with Beijing that addressed historical and territorial issues together.

Seoul has been demanding an official, sincere apology and compensation for the victims, while Tokyo claims the issue was settled in a 1965 agreement that normalized their relations.

"The negotiations are grueling. … Add to that the nature of the issue and the surrounding circumstances," a senior Seoul official said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, are believed to have been forced to provide sex to Japanese troops in front-line brothels during the war. Of the 237 Korean women who came forward as former sex slaves, 55 are still alive.