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Korea, Japan squabble over Kono’s complaint

Feb 18,2019
Bickering between Seoul and Tokyo continued Sunday, as their foreign ministers offered different accounts of a recent meeting on a top Korean legislator’s remarks that the Japanese emperor must apologize for the country’s wartime sexual slavery of Korean women.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Sunday that he complained to his Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, about National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang’s remarks during a ministerial meeting in Munich, Friday. Kang, however, said Kono did no such thing.

According to Japanese media, including the Kyodo News Agency and NHK, Kono told reporters in Germany Saturday that he had lodged a complaint with Kang about the top Korean legislator’s recent comments. The Japanese foreign minister also said Seoul must not deny he brought the issue up with Kang.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Feb. 8, Moon urged Japanese Emperor Akihito to offer a personal apology to the victims of the sexual slavery. “Isn’t he the son of the main culprit of war crimes?” Moon said in the interview. “So, if a person like that holds the hands of the elderly and says he’s really sorry, then that one word will resolve matters once and for all.”

At the latest foreign ministerial talks, Kang and Kono apparently discussed a series of sensitive issues that concern already precarious bilateral relations between the two East Asian neighbors. Japan’s Jiji Press issued a report Friday, shortly after the meeting, that said Kono expressed concern about Korean court rulings that ordered Japanese companies’ assets in Korea be seized to compensate Koreans who were forced into labor during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea. Kono also asked for bilateral talks under the 1965 Korea-Japan treaty on war-related claim rights.

The report also said Kono lodged a complaint over Moon’s remarks concerning the emperor. Kang, according to the report, ignored all requests and the talks ended with no progress. The Foreign Ministry in Seoul issued a statement Saturday to clarify the report, denying in particular that Kono complained about Moon’s remarks. “At the latest foreign ministerial talk, there was not a single mention of the issue,” it said.

Kang also denied Kono made such demands. When asked by Korean reporters whether Kono had complained about Moon’s remarks, Kang said, “No. There was no such talk.”

The Japanese foreign minister, then, issued another rebuke, stressing that he did lodged a protest.

“I told her that I was extremely shocked and expressed regret,” Kono told Japanese reporters in Germany Sunday.

“The Korean participants were listening, so I believe my message was delivered properly,” he said. “They can’t just say they don’t know.”

He also stressed he repeated three or four times that Japan demands an apology and a retraction of Moon’s remarks. “I believe my counterpart understands well what I meant by the Korean Foreign Ministry’s proper response,” Kono said.

BY YOON SEOL-YOUNG, SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]