National

Japan's Taro Kono warns South Korean speaker after call for Emperor to apologize to 'comfort women'

Bloomberg

Foreign Minister Taro Kono cautioned South Korea’s top legislator against making divisive remarks after the lawmaker urged the Japanese Emperor to make a personal apology to women forced to work in the country’s military brothels.

Kono was responding to a question Sunday about South Korean National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang’s comments in a Bloomberg News interview last week. In it, Moon said he wanted Emperor Akihito, 85, to hold hands with the elderly former “comfort women” and apologize as “the son of the main culprit of war crimes.”

“I want him to be careful about his statements,” Kono told reporters during a visit to the Philippines, according to a transcript posted on the Foreign Ministry’s website. Kono said the comfort women dispute was resolved “fully and finally” by a 2015 agreement, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered victims “most sincere apologies” and created a compensation fund.

“South Korea is not seeking a renegotiation or anything else,” Kono said. “I would like him to make statements based on a correct perception in the future.”

The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a separate statement Monday that Moon’s remarks were intended to emphasize the suffering of the victims and that the country was committed to “future-oriented” ties. “Japan needs to show sincerity for honor, dignity and to heal the emotional pain of the victims based on a victim-centered approach,” the ministry said.

Moon’s remarks drew widespread criticism in Japan, which was already sparring with South Korea over a host of disagreements stemming from its 1910-45 occupation of the peninsula. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has moved to undo the comfort women pact, which was agreed to by his predecessor, and vowed to do everything in his power to “correct the history” for the 23 surviving victims.

The comments by Moon Hee-sang — South Korea’s No. 2 elected official and a former presidential envoy to Japan — came in response to a question about how the two U.S. allies could resolve the feud. He’s not related to the president.

“It only takes one word from the prime minister, who represents Japan — I wish the emperor would do it since he will step down soon,” the speaker said. “Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes? So, if a person like that holds the hands of the elderly and says he’s really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all.”

Many in Japan believe the country has apologized enough, with less than 8 percent of respondents surveyed by the Seoul-based Hankook Daily and Tokyo-based Yomiuri Shimbun in July agreeing that another statement was necessary. That compared with 90 percent of South Koreans who wanted another apology.

Moon Hee-sang’s remarks represented a direct challenge to the Emperor, a revered figure, whose father, wartime Emperor Hirohito — who is posthumously called Emperor Showa — was once considered a living god.

“If these remarks are true, I can’t tolerate them at all, no matter how you put them,” lawmaker Masahisa Sato, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party and a former commander of peacekeeping forces in Iraq, wrote on Twitter.

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