High-ranking US official favoring Abe

By: Kang Seung-woo

The U.S. government has shown no sign of offering support to Korea in its fight against Japan’s distorted perception of history during next month’s ROK-U.S. summit.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel reportedly said Wednesday that the issue between Seoul and Tokyo needs to be left for the historians.

Russel said that it is positive that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Cabinet were in the same position as previous governments that apologized for Japan’s wartime aggression.

He made the remark during a speech in New York to the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the United States.

The issue of “comfort women,” who were forced to work as prostitutes in brothels for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II has been the main impediment to improving relations between Seoul and Tokyo. President Park Geun-hye has called for a sincere apology over the issue from Abe, who has refused to do so.

Russel’s remarks came as President Park is scheduled to hold a summit with her U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on June 16 in Washington, D.C.

In April, Russel also praised Abe in an interview with Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun for describing sexual slavery as “human trafficking,” saying it was a “forward-looking” message _ a sharp contrast to Seoul’s foreign ministry that criticized the characterization because it believes Abe refuses to acknowledge Japan’s responsibility for the atrocity.

With Russel reiterating his position, which is perhaps the same as the U.S. government, speculation is growing that Park will not be able to get a satisfactory answer from Obama should the issue be put on the summit agenda.

The icy relations between Korea and Japan have been a headache to the U.S. government’s pivot to Asia strategy, aimed at containing a rising China in the region, and it has urged its allies to mend fences with each other.

Russel also stressed the importance of a bilateral rapprochement.

“As two important allies of the U.S., it’s difficult to overstate the importance we place on good relations between Korea and Japan. I am hopeful that we will see continued progress on sensitive, important legacy issues, and an enduring improvement in overall relations in 2015,” he said.