(Sankei: August 4, 2015 – p. 5)
By Takeshi Yamamoto in Seoul
In an attempt to supplement the government’s foreign policy by conducting opposition party diplomacy, Democratic Party of Japan President Katsuya Okada visited South Korea ahead of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. During his meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Aug. 3, although Okada called for the realization of a summit meeting between Japan and South Korea without preconditions, Park tried to keep Abe in check over his upcoming statement. The meeting served South Korea’s interest because Okada took up the comfort women issue and unilaterally apologized for it.
The Okada-Park meeting was held at the Blue House in Seoul for about 40 minutes. A source involved in Japan-South Korea foreign policy expressed surprise at the fact that Park agreed to hold a meeting with Okada on the morning of Aug. 3, the first day after she returned from her summer vacation, saying such a meeting was “unprecedented.”
There is no doubt that the South Korean side gave Okada a warm welcome because they thought he might be able to convey their position to the Japanese side in view of the upcoming statement by Abe.
For Okada, the meeting with Park was a good opportunity to increase his political presence. Okada apologized for the comfort women issue by saying, “I feel very sorry for them when thinking of their agony, and I feel ashamed as a Japanese politician.” Park then urged the Japanese side to make efforts toward the early resolution of the issue. While enumerating the statements made by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, and Prime Minister Naoto Kan, she tried to keep Abe in check ahead of his upcoming statement on the 70th anniversary.
In response, taking up the joint declaration by Japan and South Korea in 2008, Okada urged South Korea to try to make concessions. Even so, he stressed at the House of Representatives plenary session on Feb. 16 that “expressions on Japan’s colonial rule and aggression should be included the 70th anniversary statement.” It appears that Okada’s critical stance on Abe’s historical view and South Korea’s intention are in alignment.
During the meeting, neither Okada nor Park brought up the topic of the Sankei Shimbun’s former Seoul Bureau chief Tatsuya Kato, who was indicted and is on trial at a South Korean court on charges of defaming Park in his column.
Okada emphasized the results of the meeting at a press conference, saying, “It was a good meeting during which I felt President Park’s enthusiasm for improving bilateral relations between Tokyo and Seoul.” (Slightly abridged)