Four-year service comes to an end for Japan’s envoy

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Four-year service comes to an end for Japan’s envoy

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Yasumasa Nagamine

Japanese Ambassador Koro Bessho left Korea on Wednesday after completing his more than three-and-a-half-year tenure, becoming the second-longest serving envoy from Tokyo.

Boarding a New York-bound plane at the Incheon International Airport, Bessho reportedly headed straight to the UN headquarters for his next role as ambassador there.

The 63-year-old became Japan’s top envoy to Seoul in October 2012 and worked for three years and eight months, just two months shy of the longest-serving Japanese ambassador, who served in the 1970s.

Japanese media outlets have reported that his successor will be Yasumasa Nagamine, 62, deputy minister in charge of economic affairs at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nagamine will likely start his post in Seoul next month.

Until recently, Nagamine, who graduated from Tokyo University and entered the diplomatic service nearly four decades ago, was involved in high-level talks with Seoul on bilateral economic affairs when both sides sought to boost cooperation after a landmark deal was reached in December to resolve the longtime political dispute concerning “comfort women,” the thousands of girls and women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.

Nagamine, an international law expert, is known to have covered political affairs at the Japanese Embassy in Korea from 2000 to 2004.

Bessho served his ambassadorial post in Seoul during a crucial and sensitive time in Korea-Japan relations, as last year marked the 50th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Just four days before the year ended, the foreign affairs ministers of Korea and Japan jointly announced a “final and irreversible” settlement, in which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized and expressed awareness of responsibility regarding comfort women.

The Korean government also agreed to establish a foundation to support the victims while Tokyo agreed to finance the fund with about 1 billion yen ($9.6 million) through state coffers.

The announcement triggered a backlash from local victims and activists, leading some 700 people to protest across from the Japanese Embassy in Jongno District, central Seoul.

During his tenure, Bessho was summoned by Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry five times, mainly due to Tokyo’s approval of school textbooks claiming that the Dokdo islets in the East Sea belong to Japan.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo last week, Bessho said his term overlapped with the “most difficult time” in bilateral relations, but thanks to the Korean public, both countries were able to reach the comfort women deal last year.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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