A steadfast positionOn Sept. 8, 42-year-old Lee Jin-woo was wiping rain drops from the statue of a young girl in Susong-dong. central Seoul. His 13-year-old daughter, Chae-young, also wiped rain from the statue, which represents the so-called comfort women who suffered sexual enslavement by the Japanese army during World War II.
“I brought my daughter because I wanted to show her the statue in case it is removed,” Lee said.
On the previous day, it was reported that Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe mentioned the statue’s removal at a summit meeting with President Park Geun-hye. It is the first time that Prime Minister Abe mentioned the statue in person at a summit meeting, according to the government’s announcement. Since an agreement was made regarding comfort women on Dec. 28, 2015, the first Korea-Japan summit meeting was held in Washington, D.C. in March. When asked if Abe had demanded the removal of the statues, Blue House senior secretary for foreign policy and security, Kim Gyu-hyeon, said he had not.
On Sept. 7, the two heads of states met again in Vientiane, Laos, and at first, it seemed the issue was not discussed. At least, that’s how it seemed according to the official statement. The Blue House press release said the two leaders evaluated the progress of the comfort women agreement and stated that Abe called it “a new era for Japan and Korea.”
However, Kyodo News Agency reported that Prime Minister Abe asked for Korea’s efforts to faithfully implement what had been agreed to last year, including the statue’s removal. The Blue House then explained that the Korean President did not mention the statue, adding that there had been no deal made other than what had been announced at the time of the Dec. 28 agreement. The clarification came hurriedly, close to midnight.
On Sept. 8, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Jun-hyeok repeated the position at the regular briefing. He also said that the government’s stance had not changed regarding the statue’s relocation and he reaffirmed that the government has no say in the matter.
All this leaves one with a bitter feeling. The Blue House intentionally avoided mentioning the statue and made belated excuses when the Japanese media addressed the issue. People could grow suspicious that the government may accommodate Japan in the end. It leaves a blot on President Park’s diplomatic endeavors by having four consecutive summit meetings with the United States, China, Russia and Japan. It would have been better if the Blue House made it clear that Abe mentioned the statue’s relocation but that Seoul was not considering it.
“I heard the statue could be relocated,” said the 13-year-old Chae-young. “If so, it would be really disappointing.”
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 9, Page 29
*The author is a political news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.