TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHINBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - While continuing to respect the 2015 Japan-South Korea deal on the issue of so-called comfort women, the two countries must prioritise compliance with and implementation of the accord.
The government has sent back its ambassador to Seoul, Yasumasa Nagamine, and another envoy nearly three months after they were withdrawn.
Among reasons for sending them back, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida cited the need to bolster information-gathering capabilities and build up a network of personal connections in preparation for the launch of a new South Korean administration after the election of a successor to former President Park Geun-hye, who was recently arrested after being ousted from the post. Kishida also referred to the importance of Tokyo and Seoul forging a close relationship to deal with North Korea.
As a prerequisite for sending them back, Tokyo had called for Seoul to take concrete action toward removal of a statue of a girl symbolising the comfort women, which was installed in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan in late 2016. Doesn't their return without achieving any outcome send South Korea the wrong message?
Tokyo must continue to point out that the return of diplomatic envoys does not mean that Seoul could be excused for not honoring its promise that "efforts will be made to overcome the issue, although it will take time."
On the South Korean side, in the meantime, Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se had merely sent the administrative authorities in Busan and others a letter requesting the removal of the statue. Such perfunctory action cannot be evaluated as "efforts" to resolve the issue.
The installation of the statue in Busan not only constitutes a diplomatic discourtesy but also runs counter to the spirit of the bilateral deal under which Seoul committed itself to working toward the removal of the statue.
It is true that the withdrawal of Nagamine and another envoy, which lasted an unusually long period, sent a clear message of Japan's protest against the statue installation and put diplomatic pressure on the South Korean government. But on the other hand, it did not come as a blow to the South Korean civic group that erected the statue. Rather, it is feared that it will be used by the group as further fuel for an anti-Japan movement.
Moon Jae In, former leader of the major opposition Democratic Party who is said to be the leading candidate for the May 9 presidential election, insists on renegotiating the bilateral deal on the comfort women issue. If the Japanese ambassador were not in Seoul at the time of inauguration of a new administration, the possibility could not be ruled out it would be used as an excuse to rescind the bilateral accord.
Taking such circumstances into account, the government's decision on their return is considered unavoidable.
It is essential that Tokyo will continue to persistently urge Seoul to stick to the bilateral deal and work toward removing the statue.
The accord was confirmed by Japan and South Korea as a commitment to resolving the comfort women issue "finally and irreversibly." It was endorsed by the United States and other relevant countries.
Moon and others should ponder what effect unilateral calls for renegotiating the bilateral deal will have on South Korea's position in the international community.
North Korea's nuclear and missile development has entered a more dangerous stage. It must be kept in mind that strengthening of Japan-South Korea security cooperation arrangements, including the General Security of Military Information Agreement signed by the Park administration, is a mutual benefit to both countries.