Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might decline to attend the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February, given South Korea’s new misgivings about the historic 2015 “comfort women” agreement, a Japanese government source said Thursday.
The remark signals growing disappointment with the administration of President Moon Jae-in, which invited Abe to attend the opening ceremony on Feb. 9.
On Wednesday, after a South Korean government task force found flaws in the domestic process that led to the December 2015 accord, Moon said it was unable to resolve their longtime dispute over the Korean women forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels before and after the war.
Abe is expected to make his decision after confirming the content of Seoul’s new policy on the thorny issue, expected to be announced in early January, government officials said.
When the agreement was signed under Moon’s impeached predecessor, Park Geun-hye, both sides agreed it was to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the matter.
The Foreign Ministry told the South Korean Embassy in Tokyo on Thursday of Japan’s concerns about Moon’s statement and made clear that there is “no other policy option” but to maintain the deal.
In the report released Wednesday, a South Korean task force said it found that the opinions of the surviving former comfort women were not “sufficiently reflected” in the negotiation process.
A Japanese government source said Tokyo’s “position of seeking the steady implementation of the agreement is unchanging,” suggesting it will not agree to any further demands Seoul makes in the wake of the report.
“If we get to the point where the South Korean government demands a rethink of the agreement, we’ll be (in a situation) where countries can’t keep their promises to one another,” a senior official said.
Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Wednesday that Japan sees “no problem in the process” that led to the agreement and warned that bilateral relations will “become unmanageable” if South Korea seeks to review it.
But bilateral coordination remains essential in dealing with the security threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs.
“It’s important for both sides to make efforts to build a friendly relationship as neighbors,” another Japanese government source said.
A source close to the South Korean task force said the report was not intended to prompt the scrapping or renegotiation of the deal.
“By no means is this a review designed to worsen Japan-South Korea relations,” the source said. “For the most part, the problems are domestic issues that have nothing to do with Japan.”
But the task force’s decision to include hitherto unpublished parts of the negotiations in its report has caused discomfort in Tokyo.
“If South Korea can’t keep diplomatic secrets, there could be an impact on the sharing of information on security issues like North Korea’s nuclear and missile (developments),” said Tadashi Kimiya, a professor of Korean studies at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.