President Lee Myung-bak, speaking to foreign-policy experts at Cheong Wa Dae last Wednesday to discuss strained relations with Tokyo, said, "The issue of comfort women cannot be resolved through legal measures but through dialogue," Japanese media reported on Sunday.
Lee also told the experts he "respects" Japanese people, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun and other Japanese media. The Asahi Shimbun quoted Lee as saying his comments calling on the Japanese emperor to apologize for his country's atrocities during World War II "were distorted. I was trying to ask whether a visit by the Japanese emperor could end the vicious cycle of deteriorating bilateral ties every time the issue of past history emerges. I meant to say that an apology from the most-respected person in Japan, the emperor, rather than apologies by several Japanese prime ministers, could resolve the problem easily."
That may have sounded like a conciliatory effort to the papers' Japanese readers, but a Cheong Wa Dae official said the remarks were misrepresented. "It's true that the meeting took place, but our stance on Japan has not changed." The official added that in saying the comfort women issue should be resolved through dialogue rather than legal measures, Lee "was actually expressing his disappointment at the Japanese government's lack of sincerity regarding the issue, which could be resolved if only Tokyo is willing."
In other words, Seoul remains firmly of the view that Japan must be held legally responsible for forcing women to serve as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Moreover, one university professor who was at the meeting could not recall Lee saying anything about the remarks about the emperor reported in the Asahi. "There were hardly any comments that day regarding an apology from the Japanese emperor, and nothing was said that could reflect a change in Korea's stance on the issue."