TOKYO (YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Japanese government said it would never agree to renegotiate a controversial 2015 settlement of the comfort women issue even if the administration of South Korean President Moon Jae In calls for it.
Moon said on Thursday (Dec 28) that a 2015 agreement with Japan over South Korean "comfort women" forced to work in wartime brothels was seriously flawed after Japan said any attempt to revise it could damage relations.
A South Korean panel set up to investigate the deal had concluded on Wednesday that it failed to meet the needs of the thousands of girls and women forced to work in Japan's military brothels, many of them Korean, euphemistically termed "comfort women" by Japan.
The announcement threw ties into doubt as the neighbours, both US allies, seek to rein in North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.
Commenting on the South Korean panel report, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, who was on a visit to Oman, clearly expressed his disappointment Wednesday, saying: "It's quite regrettable. We are working to move toward positive bilateral relations.
"However, if South Korea says it does not know what the former administration did, it will be difficult for us to do anything in the future."
Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who was the foreign minister when the accord was signed, said: "The procedures for the Japan-South Korea accord were appropriate."
Japan's Kyodo news agency quoted an unnamed Japanese government source as saying it had become difficult for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit South Korea in time for the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in February, in a potential sign of chilling ties.
When Japan and South Korea reached the agreement in 2015, Japan strongly insisted on clearly stipulating the "final and irreversible resolution of the comfort women issue" in the accord.
Since 2015 was a milestone year that marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Abe made the political decision hoping to put an end to the issue of comfort women and establish future-oriented relations with South Korea.
But the deal has since soured. In December last year, a South Korean civil group opposing the accord installed a statue of a girl symbolising comfort women in front of the Japanese Consulate in the southern South Korean city of Busan.
The Moon administration has announced such plans as establishing a national memorial day for comfort women and building a "comfort women" museum.
Japan is increasingly concerned about the possibility of South Korea scrapping the accord, encouraged by anti-Japan public opinion, according to a senior Foreign Ministry official.
Such developments in South Korea have diminished Japanese people's view of South Korea. According to surveys by the Cabinet Office, the percentage of respondents who "do not feel affinity toward South Korea" significantly surpassed that of those who "do."
In addition, the number of Japanese people visiting South Korea has mostly declined since 2012.
The Japanese side will continue to ask for the South Korean government to steadily implement the accord. If the Moon administration shows a negative response, Japan will likely decline South Korea's invitation for Abe to visit the country in line with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in February 2018.
Japan also is considering taking countermeasures, such as having Yasumasa Nagamine, ambassador to South Korea, temporarily return to Japan.
However, amid the increasing threat of North Korea, if the rift between Japan and South Korea further deepens, it will be to North Korea's advantage. In reality, Japan wants to avoid a crucial confrontation with South Korea, so it will carefully consider how to deal with the country.