TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday rejected South Korean President Moon Jae In’s recent call for a sincere apology to “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels, saying he cannot accept additions to a 2015 bilateral accord struck to finally settle the issue.
“We can by no means accept South Korea’s unilateral request for additional measures,” Abe told reporters before departing for a European tour. “The Japan-South Korea deal was a promise between countries. It is an international and universal principle to keep it.”
It was his first public comments on the matter since South Korea revealed its new policy earlier this week on the bilateral agreement struck under Moon’s predecessor Park Geun Hye’s government.
If South Korea makes a formal request, Tokyo will immediately turn it down, government sources said.
The comfort women issue has long been a source of diplomatic friction between the two neighbors. Tokyo maintains the issue was settled legally under a 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Under the deal struck in December 2015, Tokyo and Seoul agreed it would “finally and irreversibly” settle the comfort women issue.
Following the agreement, Japan provided 1 billion yen ($8.9 million) to a South Korean foundation set up to support the women and Abe offered an apology and expressed remorse to them.
“Japan has sincerely carried out all the things it promised,” he said, adding that he wants South Korea to follow suit.
The South Korean government may officially explain its new stance, including the call for a sincere apology, to the Japanese government during planned talks between Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung Wha in Canada, possibly on Monday. But if such a request is made, Kono is likely to reject it immediately, according to the sources.
The foreign ministers will be in Vancouver to attend a ministerial meeting, co-hosted by Canada and the United States, to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis.
Asked about the possibility of a summit between Abe and Moon, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference, “We have no such plan for now.”
Moon said Wednesday during a New Year’s press conference, “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.”
While admitting it is “undeniable” that the deal is an official bilateral agreement, Moon said an “erroneous knot” with Japan over the issue must be untied, urging Tokyo to apologize to the victims.
Earlier this week, Kang said Seoul expects Tokyo to do more to settle the matter, although her country will not seek to renegotiate the agreement.
She also said the South Korean government plans to set up its own fund equaling the 1 billion yen provided by Japan, while discussing what to do with the Japanese money.
Japan has repeatedly rejected South Korea’s latest requests and urged Seoul to carry out the deal, with Suga saying Tokyo is “not thinking of moving even a millimeter” on the deal.