TOKYO — Japan criticized South Korea on Tuesday after its foreign minister raised at a U.N. committee her country’s concerns about a 2015 bilateral deal on women forced into Japan’s wartime military brothels.
“We cannot accept the minister’s comments,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government’s top spokesman, said at a press conference in Tokyo.
Japan maintains that the December 2015 deal remains valid even after a change of government in South Korea, and neither country should criticize the other on the comfort women issue in the international arena.
But the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In has said it found fault with the negotiation process, which took place under Moon’s impeached predecessor Park Geun Hye, and requested that the Japanese government take further action that goes beyond the deal.
“The Japan-South Korea agreement is a promise between countries, and it’s an international and universal principle that such promises must be responsibly executed, even after a change of government,” Suga said.
Addressing the high-level segment of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said Monday the agreement “clearly lacked a victim-centered approach.”
She said the South Korean government “will take steps to help heal the scars (of the victims) and restore their dignity and honor,” without elaborating further.
Junichi Ihara, Japanese ambassador to the international organizations in Geneva, protested to his South Korean counterpart Choi Kyong Lim soon after Kang’s remarks, calling them “totally unacceptable.”
“An issue that Japan and South Korea have agreed to finally and irreversibly resolve should not be brought up at the United Nations,” Ihara said.
“The Japan-South Korea deal was agreed between the two countries as a final and irreversible resolution, and this can be achieved by the South Korean government steadily implementing what it needs to,” Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday after a Cabinet meeting.
A South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said later in the day that Kang’s comments showed the government’s “principle stance” on the comfort women issue.
The spokesman, however, rejected the possibility of Seoul scraping the agreement with Tokyo, saying it is “inappropriate” to link the 2015 deal to Kang’s remarks.
Japan similarly protested last week after South Korean Gender Equality and Family Minister Chung Hyun Back described the women as “sex slaves” at a session of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, also in Geneva.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry said the two countries confirmed in the 2015 deal that the term should be avoided.