• Kyodo, staff report

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Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi criticized Monday a recent South Korean court ruling ordering the Japanese government to pay damages to former “comfort women” — women who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II — saying it has created an “abnormal” situation.

“I will continue to strongly demand an appropriate response by the South Korean side,” Motegi said in a speech at the start of this year’s regular Diet session. The ruling over the women has reignited bilateral tensions over wartime labor compensation and trade issues.

The Seoul Central District Court’s Jan. 8 ruling is “extremely regrettable,” as it has caused “an abnormal, totally unthinkable situation in terms of international law and the bilateral relationship,” Motegi said in the speech, during which he outlined Japan’s foreign policy for the year.

Tokyo says the court order for the Japanese government to pay 100 million won (¥9.5 million) in damages to each of 12 former comfort women violates sovereign immunity under international law, a principle exempting a state from the jurisdiction of foreign national courts.

Japan also says the ruling violates a 1965 bilateral agreement that settled compensation issues related to its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula and an accord reached by the two countries in 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the comfort women issue.

Motegi also touched on a territorial row over a pair of islets in the Sea of Japan that are controlled by Seoul but claimed by Tokyo — another source of tensions between the two neighbors. They are known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea.

“Japan will deal with the issue in a calm yet resolute manner based on our basic position that Takeshima is an inherent part of the territory of Japan both in light of historical facts and based on international law,” he said.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi delivers a speech at the Lower House plenary session Monday. | KYODO
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi delivers a speech at the Lower House plenary session Monday. | KYODO

Regarding China, Motegi said Beijing’s “attempts to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea including around the waters near the Senkaku Islands are totally unacceptable.”

Chinese vessels have repeatedly been spotted entering Japanese waters around the islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu.

Motegi said Japan also “strongly opposes” Chinese actions that raise tensions in the South China Sea, where Beijing is involved in territorial rows with Southeast Asian countries and is progressing with militarization of disputed outposts.

“Japan will continue to emphasize the importance of peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law,” he said.

Motegi’s strong remarks on South Korea and China come as some lawmakers of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have pressured the government to take stronger action against Seoul over the comfort women ruling and criticized it for being too soft on Beijing.

The LDP members have urged the government to take countermeasures against Seoul such as delaying sending Japan’s new ambassador to South Korea, Koichi Aiboshi.

They have also rapped Motegi for not immediately protesting remarks Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made laying claim to the Senkaku Islands during his visit to Japan in November.

Among other areas of diplomatic emphasis this year, Motegi said Japan will continue to promote its vision of a “free and open” Indo-Pacific based on the rule of law, freedom of navigation, free trade and democracy.

The concept was coined by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2016 amid China’s growing clout in the region, including in the East and South China seas.

“Many countries have now shared this vision, seeking to secure peace and prosperity in the region and ultimately in the world,” Motegi said.

“Japan will coordinate and cooperate with the United States, Australia, India, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as well as countries of Europe, Middle East and Africa,” he added.

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