Abe may not attend Olympic Games

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Abe may not attend Olympic Games

It may be difficult for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to attend the PyeongChang Winter Olympics next year, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono reportedly said during his bilateral talks with Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha last week.

During the bilateral meeting on Dec. 19, Kang extended an invitation on behalf of President Moon Jae-in for Abe to visit Korea during the Games, which kick off on Feb. 9.

But Kono replied that it may be “difficult” for Abe to do so, reported Japan’s Asashi Shimbun Thursday, citing multiple diplomatic sources.

The comment, some believe, may be in response to the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affair’s plan to announce the results of a task force’s review of the 2015 bilateral agreement to resolve the issue of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery during World War II.

Kang made her first trip to Japan since she took office as foreign minister on Dec. 19 and 20 to discuss bilateral issues and the North Korea nuclear problem. She also paid a courtesy call to Abe. Kang, who was briefed on the results of the task force’s findings ahead of going to Tokyo, explained to Kono the progress of the review, which is set to be revealed on Dec. 27.

The two countries’ foreign ministries struck a deal on Dec. 28, 2015, to resolve the so-called comfort women issue, which included an apology by the Japanese government and a 1 billion yen ($8.81 million) fund for the victims. The agreement caused immediate backlash by some survivors and civic organizations who claimed Japan needs to take clearer legal responsibility.

President Moon Jae-in has emphasized that the agreement is not accepted by most of the general public in Korea, but has held off making a decision on whether to keep it.

The Korean Foreign Ministry launched a nine-member task force at the end of July, comprising foreign affairs officials and civilian experts in Korea-Japan relations, international law and human rights. The task force was charged with assessing the lead-up process to the deal and the agreement and said it would draw upon the viewpoints of the victims and relevant parties who had expressed grievances at being left out during the negotiation process.

Kono was said to have requested the “faithful implementation” of the agreement in their bilateral talks. Asahi reported that Kang informed him that the task force is set to announce its results on Dec. 27. To this, Kono reportedly said that if the Korean government reneges on the agreement, there could be increased anti-Korean sentiments in Japan and that the prime minister’s visit to Korea may become difficult.

However, it also cited a Japanese Foreign Ministry official as saying that Abe has not yet rejected the idea of participating in the Olympics, either, as Japan would also need Korea’s cooperation for hosting the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

And the Korean government could hold off on taking action on the agreement for now, even with the release of the task force report.

Kang told reporters in Tokyo Wednesday that the task force’s job was to appraise the agreement, and that “it doesn’t make any recommendations on policy to the government.”

She said that she conveyed to Japan that the “government decision will be established after collecting the opinions of the victims, civic organizations and scholars” and reiterated that the government believes that the sex slave victims have to be satisfied with the agreement.

Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman at the Korean Foreign Ministry, did not confirm such reports in a briefing Thursday, and only said, “During the Korea-Japan foreign ministers’ talks, the Japanese side expressed that it will review Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Korea during the PyeongChang Olympics.”

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