TOKYO — Japan reacted sharply Wednesday to South Korean President Moon Jae In’s call for a sincere apology to “comfort women” forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, with the Foreign Ministry lodging a protest through the South Korean embassy in Tokyo.
In a phone call, Kenji Kanasugi, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, told a senior official at the South Korean embassy that Moon’s remarks were “unacceptable,” a ministry source said.
Kanasugi also said Japan will not take any additional measures in response to South Korea’s new stance over the 2015 bilateral agreement on the issue, according to the source.
Speculation is also growing within the Japanese government that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is unlikely to attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics next month, despite the request by the South Korean government.
“Although it is a matter that the prime minister will decide, it is hard to imagine (Abe’s attendance) would take place,” another government source said.
Earlier in the day, Moon said during a New Year’s press conference that “Japan should accept the truth, apologize with a sincere heart and take (the comfort women issue) as a lesson and work with the international community in such a way that (something similar) could not occur again.”
On Tuesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said Seoul expects Tokyo to do more to settle the issue, although South Korea will not seek to renegotiate the agreement struck under the government of Moon’s predecessor Park Geun Hye in December 2015.
While admitting it is “undeniable” that the deal is an official bilateral agreement, Moon said Wednesday the “erroneous knot” with Japan over the comfort women issue must be untied, urging Tokyo to apologize to the victims.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Wednesday during the recording of a TV program that he is arranging to hold talks with his South Korean counterpart in Canada next week, during which they are likely to touch on the bilateral agreement. Kono and Kang will both be in Vancouver to attend a ministerial meeting, co-hosted by Canada and the United States, to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Speaking at a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also rejected Moon’s call for Tokyo to do more, saying the two countries are committed to steadily implementing the deal, given that both sides agreed to settle the issue “finally and irreversibly.”
Meanwhile, the top government spokesman indicated that Japan will keep close tabs on the situation on the Korean Peninsula after the South Korean president mentioned the possibility of an inter-Korean summit.
Noting that Japan has been in close communication with the United States and South Korea, Suga said, “There is no change in our policy of raising pressure on North Korea to the maximum level to force it to change its current policy.”
Moon said during the press conference he is open to a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if certain conditions are met.
The president made the remarks a day after the two Koreas agreed to work closely toward the success of the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in South Korea. The agreement was reached during the first high-level inter-Korean talks in more than two years in the truce village of Panmunjeom with expectations of a thaw in bilateral ties increasing.
North Korea said Tuesday it will send a delegation of high-ranking officials, athletes and cheerleaders to the Olympic Games.