TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday he will attend the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics next month, despite the ongoing bilateral feud over “comfort women” forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
Abe also expressed readiness to hold talks with South Korean President Moon Jae In, telling reporters that he would “clearly state Japan’s stance” over a bilateral agreement reached in 2015 to settle the comfort women issue.
The decision comes after Moon urged Japan earlier this month to apologize anew to the women and their families despite Tokyo and Seoul having said the 2015 deal would settle the issue “finally and irreversibly.”
Abe also said he wants to tell Moon of the need to cooperate bilaterally and trilaterally with the United States to maximize pressure on North Korea to deal with its nuclear and missile threats.
The comfort women issue has been a longstanding source of diplomatic tension between the two countries, as many of the women forced to serve in Japan’s wartime military brothels were from the Korean Peninsula.
In the talks with Moon that Tokyo is arranging with Seoul, Abe is expected to demand South Korea remove a statue symbolizing the comfort women in front of Japan’s embassy in the South Korean capital based on the 2015 agreement, according to a government source.
Under the 2015 deal, Japan apologized and expressed remorse to the former comfort women for their suffering and provided 1 billion yen ($9 million) to a South Korean foundation to support surviving victims. South Korea in return agreed to “make efforts” to remove the statue.
However, South Korea on Jan. 9 unveiled its new policy on the bilateral accord, struck between the Abe government and the administration of Moon’s predecessor Park Geun Hye.
Although South Korea said it will not seek to renegotiate the agreement with Japan, it wants Tokyo to do more for former comfort women.
Signs of easing tensions have emerged on the Korean Peninsula after the North decided to join the Olympics. Given the current positive mood for inter-Korea dialogue, Abe plans to tell Moon that the success of the international sports events and security issues should be separated, the source said.
Abe will also seek cooperation from Moon to realize a trilateral summit with China as early as possible and for the success of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Abe had held off confirming whether he would attend the Feb. 9 opening ceremony, saying he would decide after examining the Diet schedule. The 150-day ordinary parliament session convened Monday.
Since returning to power in late 2012, Abe has taken part in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.