SEOUL – South Korea has urged Japan to be cautious when making remarks about the “comfort women” issue, in light of controversial comments made by a Diet member, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Monday.
Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party, spoke Saturday in Seoul about the need to “exterminate a handful of people plotting schemes” to block Japan-South Korean ties from moving forward. Nikai is visiting Seoul as an envoy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Remarks about the bilateral relationship, including the crucial issue concerning the women who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the war, “must be made in a careful manner,” the official said, adding that South Korea’s position was conveyed to Japan through diplomatic channels.
Nikai drew fire from South Korean citizens’ groups and the media for his remarks, which could be interpreted as criticizing moves in South Korea to rework the 2015 bilateral deal that was intended to resolve the issue once and for all.
The term comfort women is Japan’s euphemism for the massive amount of women who were rounded up to provide sex for Imperial soldiers before and during the war.
Speaking at an event attended by a group of South Korean lawmakers on a trip to the city of Mokpo, Nikai also expressed hope the two countries will “get along well” and not to have relations tangled up with “trivial matters.”
Japan and South Korea struck the landmark accord in December 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the long-standing row.
In accordance with the agreement, Tokyo last year disbursed ¥1 billion to a South Korean fund providing support for the victims and their families.
President Moon Jae-in, who took office May 10, pledged during his election campaign to renegotiate the agreement, which was reached under his predecessor, Park Geun-hye.
Later Monday, Nikai was to deliver a letter from Abe to Moon as part of efforts to lay the groundwork for the leaders’ first face-to-face meeting.
In the morning, he met Choo Mi-ae, leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, and expressed hope that a meeting between Abe and Moon can be arranged on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit both will attend in Germany early next month.
“Leader-level close communication is extremely important in building future-oriented Japan-South Korea relations,” Nikai told Choo at the outset of their meeting.
He conveyed the Abe administration’s agreement with Moon’s suggestion of reciprocal diplomacy between the countries.
Nikai arrived Saturday in South Korea for a four-day visit.