Solve comfort women issue, Angela Merkel says while in Japan

Posted on : 2015-03-11 16:21 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
German chancellor says Korea and Japan share values after bringing up comfort women issue
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with Katsuya Okada
German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with Katsuya Okada


While visiting Japan on Mar. 10, German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her view that Japan needs to clearly resolve the issue of the comfort women, one of the key causes of conflict between Japan and South Korea.

During both days of her visit to the country - her first in seven years - Merkel urged the Japanese government to face up to its history and to address the problems of the past. Even after a summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Mar. 9, Merkel said, “Clearing up the past is the prerequisite for achieving reconciliation between perpetrators and victims.”

On Tuesday morning, during her second day in Japan, Merkel met Katsuya Okada, head of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), the country‘s leading opposition party, and shared opinions about areas of bilateral interest including history and security for 40 minutes.

One exchange during the meeting received wide coverage by the Japanese press. “70 years have passed since the war, but Japan cannot be said to have achieved reconciliation with China and South Korea. What was it like in Germany?” Okada asked during the meeting. In response, Merkel said, “It is impossible to completely resolve the issues of the past. We must always face up to the past.”

Merkel’s remark suggests that, since it is impossible to completely wipe away a wrong committed in the past, the perpetrator must always bear that past wrong in mind and make an effort not to forget it.

But Merkel went one step further, even opining that Japan needs to address the issue of the comfort women and referring directly to Japan‘s relations with South Korea.

“Merkel voluntarily brought up the issue of the comfort women. She said, ’Considering the situation in East Asia, relations between Japan and South Korea are very important. Don‘t you think a proper solution should be found for the issue of the comfort women? Since Japan and South Korea share a common set of values, it is important for them to be reconciled,’” Okada quoted Merkel as saying.

Considering her typical caution, it is highly irregular for Merkel to send messages urging the Abe government to tackle the problems of the past for two days in a row, experts suggest.

In regard to Merkel making her position clear on historical issues during her visit to Japan, Japanese newspaper the Asahi Shimbun concluded that the tension between the three countries in Northeast Asia - South Korea, China, and Japan - is becoming a genuine risk that cannot be ignored even in countries as geographically distant as Germany.

In the view of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Merkel was expressing her hope that Prime Minister Abe, who is planning to release his own statement in Aug. 2015, will not damage Japan‘s relations with South Korea and China, which have close economic ties with Germany.

The Japanese government appears to be making an effort to minimize the consequences of Merkel’s remarks.

During a press conference on Mar. 10, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said, “Chancellor Merkel said during her press conference yesterday that it is important for neighboring countries to have an attitude of cooperating with each other. However, since the situations of Japan and Germany are different, it is not appropriate to make simple comparisons between the two.”

“Prime Minister Abe‘s cabinet upholds the position of previous cabinets that Japan inflicted severe pain and damage on the people of several Asian countries in the past,” Kishida affirmed once more.

Attending a memorial service for the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Tokyo that was held on Tuesday, Abe said, “Facing the past with humility, we will store in our hearts the tragic lessons of war and dedicate ourselves to create a lasting peace for the world.”


By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent


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