New unit to focus on Japan, history

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New unit to focus on Japan, history

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to set up a division within its Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau dedicated to dealing with Japan’s denials and distortions of history.

The move comes as Japanese political leaders associated with the Shinzo Abe government continue to whitewash the country’s history of aggression and misdeeds, such as denying that its military forced Korean women into sexual slavery during World War II.

“The newly formed Japan affairs division will be differentiated as it will specialize only in analyzing historical documents,” said a foreign ministry official. “Currently, our tendency is to respond when Japan raises an issue, but in the future, we will find the fundamentals of the issues, such as historical documents, so we can preemptively deal with them.”

Since Prime Minister Abe’s inauguration, Korea’s Foreign Ministry has scrambled to respond to right-wing Japanese political leaders who have made insensitive remarks about the euphemistically named comfort women. Between February and June, the Abe administration even set up an investigative committee to reexamine the process of drafting the 1993 Kono Statement, an apology to the victims of sexual slavery, and concluded there was no documented evidence of Korean women being forcibly recruited by the Japanese Imperial Army, ignoring victims’ testimonies.

Such actions are particularly alarming to Seoul as Japan seeks to reinterpret its pacifist constitution to enable its rights to so-called collective self-defense without properly repenting for its past history of invasion.

This newly formed division on historical affairs is expected to be run under the supervision of First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yong.

Thus, the new division is expected to take an offensive role in dealing with historical issues with Japan.

The Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau currently has a division specializing in Japanese affairs and two on Chinese affairs. The ministry has considered expanding the Japan affairs division for a while.

“If the new Japan division is formed, the existing Northeast Asian Affairs Bureau’s 1st division [currently dealing with all Japanese affairs] will deal with tasks related to the economy, trade, security and other affairs,” another official from the foreign ministry said.

President Park Geun-hye has yet to hold a bilateral summit with Abe because of the historical and territorial disputes between the two neighboring countries.

Because next year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the ministry is expected to have a delicate balancing act.


BY YOO JEE-HYE, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]



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