South Korea summoned Japan’s envoy on Monday to protest against Tokyo’s review of a landmark 1993 apology to women, many Korean, forced to work as wartime sex slaves in Japanese military brothels, urging it to stop trying to whitewash history.
South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong told the Japanese Ambassador Bessho Koro that Tokyo was trying to undermine its own apology when the history behind the issue of “comfort women” was recognised internationally.
“Japan must understand that the more the Abe government tires to undermine the Kono statement, the more its credibility and international reputation will suffer,” Cho said.
“Comfort women” is the euphemism for women forced to serve in military brothels serving Japanese soldiers before and during the second world war.
South Korea has protested against the conclusion of a Japanese panel reviewing the 1993 statement named after then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that the two countries had worked together on the sensitive wording of the apology.
It rejected the finding that South Korea was involved in the formulation of the apology, saying the document was a formal statement by the Japanese government and the facts behind the comfort women issue had never been up for discussion.
The topic of comfort women has long been a thorn in the two countries’ ties. South Korea says Japan has not sufficiently atoned for the women’s suffering and any attempt at questioning the legitimacy of the apology is an indication of its insincerity.
The legacy of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula has complicated ties between the two allies of the United States in the region that are also involved in diplomatic efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has questioned the Kono statement in the past and in what many saw as a nod to his conservative base, the government asked five experts to review it.
But mindful of the potential diplomatic fallout, Abe has also said he would not revise it.
A summary of the review by Japan’s foreign ministry said that there had been “in-depth coordination on the language of the Kono statement between Japan and the Republic of Korea”, the official name of South Korea.
The two sides are also locked in a dispute over a group of islands called Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese and controlled by South Korea but claimed by Japan as well.