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Abe rejects Seoul's new call for apology on 'comfort women' issue

By TOMOHIRO OSAKI | Japan Times, Tokyo (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 12, 2018

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rejected calls by South Korea Friday to offer a fresh apology to the Korean "comfort women" forced to provide sex at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II, saying Seoul's recent attempt to revisit the historic 2015 agreement is "completely unacceptable."

It was Abe's first public response to a controversial announcement made by Seoul earlier this week that it expects Japan to make a "voluntary and sincere" apology to the victims of its forced prostitution.

In the announcement, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also said Seoul will establish its own fund worth ¥1 billion to support the survivors and reassess how to spend the same amount that was contributed to a Korean fund by Japan in accordance with the 2015 pact.

Although Seoul clarified it won't seek to outright renegotiate the pact, its announcement nonetheless sparked the ire of Japanese officials who saw it as a virtual attempt by the administration of Moon Jae-in to dredge up an issue that was purportedly resolved "finally and irreversibly" by the 2015 accord.

In a nationally televised news conference Wednesday, Moon backed Kang's remarks, repeating that the agreement was reached in "the wrong way" because the victims were kept out of the loop, and demanding that Japan offer a "heartfelt apology," according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

Speaking to reporters Friday before his trip to Europe, Abe repeated Tokyo's traditional stance that the pact is a "government-to-government agreement" that should be upheld in accordance with "international and universal standards."

"That South Korea unilaterally requested additional measures is completely unacceptable," he continued, adding Japan will continue to "firmly" urge South Korea to abide by the agreement.

In line with Abe's position, various senior officials in Tokyo have pointed out since the collapse of the government led by Moon's predecessor Park Geun-hye that a change in leadership does not justify a unilateral abrogation of the deal.

Asked whether Japan has any intention of discussing with South Korea how to spend the ¥1 billion it provided, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday that such dialogue would be unacceptable. He also said there are no plans for Abe to meet with Moon.

Seoul's latest stance on the comfort women has fast clouded the prospect of Abe attending the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

Speculation is rife in Japan that Abe may skip the games due to the diplomatic setback. Quoting an unnamed high-ranking government source, the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported Wednesday that Tokyo is inclined to forego Abe's visit.

"In addition to the announcement, statues symbolizing comfort women have been set up in various places in South Korea ... Prime Minister Abe won't be able to stand a situation like this," the official was quoted by the daily as saying.

Under the landmark deal signed by the foreign ministers of the two nations in 2015, Japan put ¥1 billion into a South Korean foundation to support the Korean victims, while South Korea agreed to "make efforts" to remove a statue symbolizing the comfort women from in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

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(c)2018 the Japan Times (Tokyo)
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