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INTERNATIONAL > East Asia & Pacific

Japan, ROK relations bound to deteriorate over “comfort woman” statue

  • January 7, 2017
  • , Asahi, Mainichi, Yomiuri, Nikkei, Sankei, Tokyo Shimbun
  • JMH Summary

Most Monday papers wrote that Prime Minister Abe stated during an NHK interview on Sunday: “Japan has already contributed 1 billion yen to the foundation for the comfort women based on the 2015 agreement. Now it’s South Korea’s turn to show its sincerity. We have confirmed that the agreement is final and irreversible. It is a matter of trust between the nations to implement the agreement regardless of the change of government in the ROK.” The papers interpreted Abe’s remark as a call for Seoul to remove the comfort woman statue in Busan. Foreign Minister Kishida also called for the implementation of the agreement on Friday in France.


According to Tuesday morning papers, Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Nagamine and Consul-General to Busan Morimoto returned to Japan on Monday in response to the installation of the comfort woman statue in Busan. The diplomats will brief the prime minister and the foreign minister today on the situation in South Korea and are expected to stay in Japan for a week or so. Asahi wrote that there is no breakthrough on the issue in sight, but the GOJ is hoping that it will not seriously aggravate Japan’s relations with the ROK in view of the need for cooperation against the DPRK. Calls for additional retaliatory measures may emerge within the LDP if the dispute becomes prolonged.


All Saturday morning papers reported heavily on the issue. The papers projected that the bilateral relations, which have slowly improved following the comfort women accord about a year ago, are bound to deteriorate again. The Abe administration decided to take a hard line even at the risk of undermining the bilateral ties so as to express displeasure with the Park administration for not only failing to remove a similar memorial in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul but also allowing another one to be installed in Busan. Yomiuri said Japan’s measures were intended to remind the international community that South Korea is unilaterally violating the comfort women pact that stipulates the “final and irreversible settlement” of the history dispute. Mainichi explained that the GOJ is worried that similar memorials may be built across South Korea, adding that the Japanese measures are meant to convey the message that rising anti-Japanese sentiment in South Korea cannot be overlooked. Asahi wrote that the GOJ took the countermeasures in order to head off the potential rise of calls at home for abandoning the comfort women pact, explaining that Tokyo exercised restraint by recalling the ambassador “only temporarily” and by suspending economic talks instead of cancelling them in order to prevent bilateral relations from being completely crippled.


Seoul hoping to maintain relations

Saturday evening’s Asahi reported on ROK Foreign Minister Yun’s meeting with Japanese Ambassador Nagamine that followed Tokyo’s announcement on the countermeasures. While expressing apprehension about the possible deterioration of public sentiments in both nations toward each other, Yun reportedly expressed Seoul’s hope to maintain solid relations with Tokyo in order to deal with North Korea. The Korean official, however, stressed that it will be difficult for the Park administration to enforce the removal of the comfort woman statue in Busan. Mainichi predicted that Japan’s steps could fuel anti-Japanese sentiment among Korean people and have an influence on the presidential election to be held this year.


U.S. calls for peaceful solution

Sunday’s Asahi reported that Vice President Biden spoke by phone with ROK Prime Minister Hwang on Friday and urged him to seek a peaceful settlement of the renewed tension between Tokyo and Seoul. Noting that the Vice President also spoke by phone with Prime Minister Abe on the same day, the daily said Washington is taking the growing schism between its two Asian allies very seriously. Asahi also wrote on Saturday that since the incoming Trump administration may not maintain the Obama administration’s support for the Japan-ROK comfort women agreement, the momentum for increased trilateral coordination in dealing with North Korea and China may wane.

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