Although U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his desire that the strained relations between two of its allies, Japan and South Korea, be mended weeks before his trip to East Asia, it seemed that he was avoiding the topic, which caused a breakdown in the two nation’s ties, until the last minute.
While in Seoul after his three-day visit in Japan, Obama made his first-ever allusion to the “comfort women” issue and described it as a “terrible and egregious” violation of human rights. Obama urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to initiate actions that would help settle the issue, so both nations affected by it can begin establishing closer ties. South Korean President Park Geun-Hye echoed Obama’s sentiments, saying, “I really look forward to efforts made by the Japanese side.”
Meanwhile, people who were closely following Obama’s Asian visit advised against making a big deal out of the statements made by the Western leader. The Japanese government downplayed the prediction that the comments would trigger a new outrage. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato urged the public to be cautions in their opinions, as Prime Minister Abe has already expressed regret and apology for WWII victims and their plight. He added that the remarks “should not develop into a fresh political and diplomatic issue.” Abe has since pledged to uphold a 1993 public apology addressing the comfort women victims.