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Japan complains about ‘comfort woman’ at state dinner

Nov 10,2017
Tokyo’s most senior diplomat squawked about Seoul inviting a victim of Japan’s wartime sexual slavery to a state dinner celebrating U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Seoul.

He complained about the menu, too.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono complained to Korean diplomats during a trip to Vietnam for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting, Japanese media reported Thursday.

Kono told reporters Wednesday on the sidelines of the APEC forum in Da Nang that such decisions were “regrettable at a time when solidarity between South Korea, the United States and Japan is important because of the North Korea crisis, and we have been talking of building Korea-Japan relations in a future-oriented direction.”

He said that this could “have an effect” on trilateral cooperation and added that he conveyed the same message to South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Kyung-wha through a senior Korean Foreign Ministry official attending the APEC meeting.

On Tuesday, President Trump was photographed warmly embracing Lee Yong-soo, an 89-year-old Korean woman who was among the thousands of girls and young women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II and made to serve in military brothels throughout Asia. The victims are euphemistically called comfort women.

Lee was invited to the dinner banquet hosted at the Blue House to mark Trump’s state visit Tuesday.

The menu, aside from a main course of grilled hanwoo (Korean beef) ribs marinated in 360-year-old soy sauce, also included shrimp from the Dokdo islets in the East Sea.

Japan claims Dokdo as its own territory, which it calls Takeshima, although Korea holds legislative, administrative and judicial jurisdiction and maintains there is no dispute over Dokdo.

The previous day, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also questioned the state dinner menu choice and emphasized that a Dec. 28, 2015 deal between Korea and Japan resolved the comfort women issue, which included an apology by the Japanese government and a payment of 1 billion yen ($8.79 million) for the victims.

“The menu and invitation list for the state dinner were decided upon taking into consideration all sorts of factors, thus we do not believe it is appropriate to raise a problem about such a matter,” said Noh Kyu-duk, spokesman at the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Addressing the protests by Japanese officials, Lee, a longtime activist who has spread global awareness of the comfort women issue, told CBS radio on Thursday, “The president was visiting, and I greeted him - caring about even that .?.?. it’s dumbfounding.”

Lee, who testified about her experience before the U.S. Congress in 2007 leading to a landmark House resolution that year on the comfort women issue, said, “It’s not their place to intervene in whether I go meet an honored visiting guest, in another country, or not.”

She also described the shrimp served at the banquet as being “tasty, succulent and sweet.”

Lee said that she had a message she wanted to convey to President Trump: “Please resolve the comfort women issue and receive the Nobel Peace Prize.” She added, “I really wanted to tell him this, and regret I wasn’t able to.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]