Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday the government “is not at all considering” issuing apology letters to Korean women forced to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese military, citing the deal cut between Tokyo and Seoul late last year aimed at irrevocably settling the issue.
“Both countries are required to sincerely fulfill the contents of the agreement, and (apology letters) are not included in those contents,” Abe told the Lower House Budget Committee.
As agreed in the December deal, South Korea set up a foundation, into which Japan has deposited ¥1 billion, to care for the surviving “comfort women” and their families.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck told a news conference Thursday that the South Korean government “expects the Japanese side to take additional emotional measures to console the comfort women victims’ wounds.”
Cho’s remark echoed requests from the foundation itself for apology letters from Abe to go along with the monetary compensation for each recipient.
But the Abe administration has insisted it needs to do nothing further for the women, with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Friday dismissing the idea of any additional measures.
It was hoped the landmark agreement would improve bilateral ties that have long been strained over historical grievances, but the future of a comfort women memorial statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul remains a sticking point.
Abe also said Japan will continue to insist on its sovereignty over all four islands involved in the territorial dispute with Russia amid calls for first seeking the return of two of the islets to break the decades-old deadlock.
“There is no change” in Japan’s position that it has ownership of all four islands,” Abe said, referring to Shikotan, the Habomai islet group, Etorofu and Kunashiri off Hokkaido.
Abe’s comments came after suggestions were made ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan on Dec. 15 that Tokyo adopt a “two-track” approach, initially seeking the return of Shikotan and the Habomais, the smallest of the four islands.
Muneo Suzuki, an unofficial adviser to Abe, is a prominent promoter of this approach, which also entails continuing talks on the fate of the two remaining islets.
“Resolving (the territorial issue) is the right decision for the future of both Japan and Russia,” Abe said.
The ownership dispute over the islets, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.