TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he would attend the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea next month, after reports he would not attend due to a dispute over “comfort women” forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
Japan and South Korea share a bitter history that includes Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the peninsula and the “comfort women” issue is especially touchy.
Abe said he wanted to meet Moon during the visit to convey Japan’s stance that it cannot accept Seoul’s call for more steps to help the “comfort women”, as they are euphemistically known.
Under a 2015 deal, reached by Abe and Moon’s predecessor, Japan apologised to former “comfort women” and provided a 1 billion yen ($9 million) fund to help them.
But South Korea said this month the agreement failed to meet victims’ needs, calling for more steps.
“I want to hold a summit meeting to firmly convey Japan’s stance on the agreement over the ‘comfort women’ issue,” Abe told reporters at the prime minister’s official residence.
Under the deal, the two countries agreed that the issue would be “irreversibly resolved” if both fulfilled their obligations.
Japan, for its part, wants South Korea to remove statues commemorating Korean comfort women near its embassy in Seoul and the Japanese consulate in Busan city. Seoul says the memorials were erected by civic groups and therefore out of its reach.
“The two governments of Japan and South Korea have discussed Prime Minister Abe’s visiting South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and welcome Japan’s decision to officially announce the visit,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Blue House said in a statement ahead of Abe’s remarks to reporters.
Abe risks upsetting some in his conservative base, with a decision to attend the Games given Seoul’s demands.
Members of a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) panel agreed on Wednesday to oppose the visit and said they planned to convey that stance to the premiere later.
Moon welcomes Abe
Later on, South Korea’s presidential office on Wednesday said it welcomes Japan’s decision for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit South Korea in time for the Pyeongchang Olympics next month.
“The two governments of Japan and South Korea have discussed Prime Minister Abe’s visiting South Korea for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and welcome Japan’s decision to officially announce the visit,” said the Blue House in a statement.