The Foreign Ministry has changed its description of South Korea on its website, deleting text referring to the country as one that shares the values of freedom, democracy and a market economy, government officials said Wednesday.
The move comes amid lingering tension between Tokyo and Seoul over the case of Japanese journalist Tatsuya Kato, who was Seoul bureau chief of the daily Sankei Shimbun. He is now on trial for allegedly defaming South Korean President Park Geun-hye and is being blocked from leaving the country.
The Japanese text of the website now says that South Korea is Japan’s “most important neighboring country,” while the previous description was that South Korea is “an important neighboring country with which our country shares fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and a market economy.”
Yasuhisa Kawamura, the ministry’s press secretary, said at a news conference that the change, effective Monday, is “part of periodic changes” made by the ministry to its website. But he stopped short of saying why the reference on sharing fundamental values was deleted.
Last month, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe, in a policy speech to the Diet, also referred to South Korea as “our most important neighboring country,” after calling describing it in his 2013 and 2014 policy speeches as “our most important neighboring country with which we share fundamental values and common interests.”
The change in the ministry’s website was made in the part about bilateral political relations, Kawamura said.
Kato was indicted without arrest last year on charges of defaming Park in an article published online in August.
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