(Yomiuri: November 10, 2015 – p. 4)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and ROK President Park Geun-hye agreed at their summit meeting in Seoul on Nov. 2 to work for an “early settlement” of the comfort women issue. A substantial amount of time in this first Japan-ROK summit in three years and six months was devoted to the comfort women issue. We took a look at the intense discussions lasting one hour and 45 minutes based on the testimony of informed sources.
Abe stated at the beginning of the meeting: “I would like to tell you frankly how the Japanese people feel about the comfort women issue. President Park, you are also welcome to speak candidly, but please keep (this conversation) secret.”
With Park’s consent, Abe began to talk about the efforts Japan had made on the comfort women issue. He touched on Japan’s economic cooperation totaling $500 million under the Japan-ROK agreement on claims and economic cooperation and emphasized that “even after the issue was legally settled, Japan has made various efforts from a humanitarian standpoint.” He was referring to the compensation paid to the former comfort women through the Asian Women’s Fund set up in 1995. He also asked for the removal of the comfort women statue erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Park asked for compromise from Japan by pointing out that, “A solution that is acceptable to the victims and the South Korean people needs to be found as soon as possible.”
The two leaders argued for about one hour. However, both of them did not become emotional at any point during this process.
The discussion on the comfort women issue was separated from the other issues and took place in a small group, including the two leaders and their foreign ministers. Abe was the one who proposed this discussion.
During the advance coordination between the two countries, the two sides were about to schedule the summit meeting for 45 minutes at first. However, when Abe heard about this plan during his tour of Central Asia in mid-October, he asked: “How long will the China-ROK summit last?” The ROK had planned to hold a one-hour summit with Premier Li Keqiang and host a dinner for him. On the other hand, no dinner was being planned for Abe because the ROK side was reluctant to host one.
Abe gave the following instruction to the bureaucrats responsible for coordination: “Then let’s hold a small group discussion.”
The ROK agreed. After the small group discussion on that day, diplomats of both governments joined the group and exchanged views for another 45 minutes on the South China Sea and other issues. The meeting ended after Park exclaimed: “Oh, look at the time.”
A participant on the Japanese side saw how affable Park was and felt that she had become psychologically closer to Abe. Park’s mentioning “the ROK, Japan, and China” in that order instead of the usual “the ROK, China, and Japan” was also well received. Japan regarded this as a “token of her hospitality.”
The two leaders did not hold a joint news conference after the summit meeting to avoid a detailed explanation of what was discussed. A Japanese government source confided that Japan had agreed to waive the news conference. He compared the delicate Japan-ROK relationship to an egg. “If there’s a crack in the shell right now, raw egg will flow out. It will still take time for the chick to hatch.”