MUNICH – Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Saturday denied a South Korean Foreign Ministry account that he did not protest during a recent bilateral meeting the comments made by South Korea’s National Assembly speaker calling for an apology from the Emperor to resolve the “comfort women” dispute.
An official at the South Korean Foreign Ministry said Saturday, the day after the meeting between Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Kono, that the Japanese minister did not mention the recent comments by its National Assembly Speaker, Moon Hee-sang, seeking an apology from Emperor Akihito, which has angered many people in Japan.
But Kono said he conveyed Japan’s protest over the speaker’s comments during the meeting held in Munich on the sidelines of an annual security conference.
“I (asked South Korea) to take an appropriate response to the matter,” Kono told reporters. “As we have repeatedly demanded a retraction and apology, I believe (South Korea) understands what we want to say.”
Speaking to reporters in Munich on Friday, Kang said that there were no such discussions in her meeting with Kono.
Asked about whether a protest was made by a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry official who attended the meeting, Kang said such a thing did not happen.
After the meeting, the Japanese officials explained that Kono reiterated Tokyo’s demand for an apology from South Korea over Moon’s remarks and their withdrawal and that Kang made no response.
Kono on Saturday told reporters in Munich he told Kang that Moon’s remarks came as a surprise and were regrettable.
In an interview with a U.S. news agency reported last week, Moon said it is desirable for Emperor Akihito to apologize to former comfort women, a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
The two sides also remain apart over wartime labor issues.
At their meeting on Friday, Kono again sought talks with Seoul over a series of South Korean Supreme Court rulings ordering Japanese companies, including Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., to pay compensation to South Korean plaintiffs who said they were requisitioned to work in Japan during World War II.
The Korean Peninsula was under Japan’s colonial rule at the time.
Tokyo maintains that the issue of compensation was settled “completely and finally” under a bilateral agreement to settle property claims signed alongside the 1965 Japan-South Korea basic relations treaty that established diplomatic ties.
The relationship between the two countries has also deteriorated due to an alleged incident in December last year in which a South Korean Navy warship locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force plane patrolling over the Sea of Japan.
The two countries’ failure to find ways to solve the host of issues plaguing their relations through the talks between the foreign ministers has highlighted the seriousness of the situation, pundits said.
Still, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said after the bilateral meeting that the two ministers affirmed their intentions to continue talks.