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Kono didn’t discuss Moon with Kang, source says

Feb 19,2019
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono “made no mention at all” of National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang during talks with his Korean counterpart last Friday and instead spoke about Park Tae-joon, the late founder of steelmaker Posco, according to a diplomatic source.

Seoul and Tokyo have become mired in another battle of truth over what Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Kono discussed on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

Moon, earlier this month, urged Japanese Emperor Akihito to offer a personal apology to Korean victims of Japan’s sexual slavery during World War II in an interview with Bloomberg.

Kono told reporters Sunday that he complained to Kang about Moon’s remarks during the foreign ministerial meeting in Munich last week. The Korean Foreign Ministry has denied reports that Kono lodged a protest over Moon’s remarks.

“Foreign Minister Kono spoke of former Posco Chairman Park Tae-joon and past affairs,” said the diplomatic source in Tokyo Monday. “He may have thought he was alluding to [bilateral affairs] through recalling past politicians, but during the meeting, there was no mention of National Assembly Speaker Moon Hee-sang, or even the ‘Moon’ in his name.”

The source said, “This is content shared among the Korean members who attended the foreign ministerial meeting.”

Kang and Kono discussed the North Korea denuclearization issue and cooperation on bilateral issues, the source added. Tokyo has been protesting the Korean Supreme Court’s decisions last October and November that called for two Japanese companies, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to compensate their Korean victims of forced labor during colonial rule.

The court ruling rejects Tokyo’s premise that the 1965 treaty normalizing bilateral relations with Seoul, which provided the Korean government with an economic cooperation fund, settled all compensation matters. The source said that Kono, during his talks with Kang, recalled the late founder of Posco, Park Tae-joon, also a former Korean prime minister, and the two countries’ past cooperation.

Japan’s economic cooperation fund and loans in 1969 largely financed the construction of Pohang’s initial plant in the 1970s, in accordance with the 1965 agreement. Park, like Moon, in the past, served as head of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians’ Union.

Kono may have intended to mention Park’s past remarks on Japan to contrast them with National Assembly Speaker Moon’s statements. But the source said that Kono did not make direct or indirect references to Moon during the meeting. Kono did not, according to the source, lodge a protest about Moon’s Bloomberg interview or request an apology over the remarks or their retraction during the meeting.

“There was no remark that Foreign Minister Kang could have construed as a protest,” the source said.

This is contrast to Kono’s remarks to reporters Sunday in Munich, where he said he told Kang that he “regretted” Moon’s remarks and requested that the Korean Foreign Ministry “respond appropriately.” He also said that Korean officials were present and that “the message would have been conveyed.”

Moon has said he has no intention to apologize for his remarks despite Tokyo’s ire.

BY SEO SEUNG-WOOK, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]