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Abe fumes over Assembly speaker’s words for emperor

Feb 14,2019
The spat between Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has further damaged already precarious bilateral relations between the two East Asian neighbors.

Moon called Japanese Emperor Akihito the “the son of the main culprit of war crimes” and said the emperor must apologize before his abdication, which is planned for May, in an interview with Bloomberg on Feb. 8.

“What I said is a theory that I have been repeating for the past 10 years,” Moon told reporters in Washington Tuesday. “I still think that would be the fundamental solution.”

“It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan - I wish the emperor would do it since he will step down soon,” Moon, who is also the former presidential envoy to Japan, told Bloomberg. “Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes? So, if a person like that holds the hands of the elderly and says he’s really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all.”

Moon was speaking about the Imperial Japanese Army’s sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of Korean during World War II, who are euphemistically referred to as comfort women.

“The point to my comments was a sincere apology,” Moon said in Washington Tuesday. “That a sincere apology would solve all problems […] I don’t understand why it’s become such a big issue, with even Prime Minister Abe saying something about it.”

In response to Moon comment in the interview, Abe demanded an apology from Korea.

“When I read these remarks, I was really surprised,” Abe told a group of lawmakers at the Lower House Budget Committee session Tuesday, according to Bloomberg. “Our country immediately conveyed to South Korea via the diplomatic route that Speaker Moon’s comments were extremely inappropriate and most regrettable. We protested strongly and called for an apology and a retraction.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Moon’s comments are “extremely inappropriate and highly regrettable” in a press conference in Tokyo Tuesday. He said a senior-ranking official in the Japanese Foreign Ministry lodged a complaint to South Korea on Feb. 8 and that in Korea, the Japanese ambassador to Korea lodged a complaint with a vice foreign minister of Korea.

But Suga added, “Moon’s office has released a press release hoping for more future-oriented bilateral relations. And the South Korean government also explained that the comments were not intended as reported.”

South Korean Foreign Ministry press officer Noh Kyu-duk, in a press briefing Tuesday, said the ministry believed Moon’s comments as “intended to emphasize that a victim-oriented and sincere approach is needed from Japan to heal the wounds of the victims.”

The issue of comfort women has already strained bilateral relations in the past few months.

The South Korean government announced in November last year that it would shut down a Japanese-funded foundation meant to support women forced to work as sex slaves in Japan’s military brothels during the war. This effectively voided a 2015 bilateral agreement that was supposed to solve the enduring comfort women issue. That also irked Tokyo and Abe warned Seoul at the time not to put bilateral relations at risk. Worsening matters, around the same time Seoul’s top court ruled in favor of compensating victims of forced labor by Japanese firms during the colonial era.

Last October and November, Korea’s Supreme Court made landmark decisions last year calling for two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate Korean victims of forced labor during colonial era. Tokyo maintains that a 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters.

But the Korean Supreme Court rulings determined that the 1965 treaty did not address the illegality of Japan’s colonial rule.

BY ESTHER CHUNG, SEO SEUNG-WOOK AND CHUN SU-JIN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]


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