Hwang calls on Tokyo, Seoul to show diplomatic restraint

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Hwang calls on Tokyo, Seoul to show diplomatic restraint

Korea’s acting president on Tuesday called for a restraint of actions that can lead to the deterioration of relations between Seoul and Tokyo over the issue of the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery, after Japan’s strong retaliation over the installation of a statue representing so-called comfort women victims in Busan.

His remarks came as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with his top diplomats to Korea on Tuesday morning after they were recalled back to Tokyo in protest of a statue representing victims of its sexual slavery before and during World War II, installed by civilians near its consulate in Busan at the end of last year.

“We need to refrain from actions that can exacerbate the situation involving the comfort women victims for the development of future-oriented relations between Korea and Japan,” said Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, the acting president, addressing concerns over tense relations between Korea and Japan during a cabinet meeting.

“The core of the bilateral agreement on the issue is to recover the dignity and honor of the victims and heal the wounds in their hearts,” Hwang continued. “Not only the Korean and Japanese governments, but all interested parties, need to respect the spirit of the agreement and need to work toward advancing Korea-Japan relations.”

After returning to Tokyo Monday, Japanese Ambassador to Seoul Yasumasa Nagamine and Yasuhiro Morimoto, the consul general in Busan, met with Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, to discuss how to respond to the issue.

Nagamine told reporters after the meeting that he cannot “go into detail” about what was discussed but that he made “thorough reports” to both Prime Minister Abe and the chief cabinet secretary.

Suga, in a press conference after the meeting, again expressed regret over the installation of the newest statue and “strongly requested” that Korea implement the Dec. 28, 2015, bilateral agreement on the issue.

He said he was not able to elaborate further because the issue was still undergoing internal government discussion. Suga did not give a direct answer to a reporter’s question as to whether the removal of the statue was a condition for the return of the diplomats, saying it “hasn’t been decided yet” when the envoys will return to Korea.

A “final and irreversible” deal struck by the Korean and Japanese foreign ministries on Dec. 28, 2015, was intended to end the long-running diplomatic battle over the comfort women issue by agreeing to a Japanese government apology and a 1 billion yen ($8.6 million) fund for the victims.

Under the deal, the Korean government “acknowledges” that Japan is concerned about the statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and will strive to “solve the issue in an appropriate manner.”

But Seoul maintains that any decision to remove the statue is up to the private civic organizations that installed it.

“We hope that the government, related local governments, civic organizations and related parties can determine the appropriate place to remember the issue of wartime sexual slavery,” Cho June-hyuck, spokesman of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a briefing Tuesday, “taking into consideration international practice in relation to the protection of a diplomatic mission.”

But lawmakers of Korea’s three main opposition parties have called for the Korean government to return the 1 billion yen rather than remove the statues.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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