South Korean President Moon Jae-in would not be visiting Tokyo for the Olympic Games, his office said yesterday, scrapping plans for what would have been his first summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
The announcement came after Seoul lodged a protest over a news report on Friday last week that a senior diplomat at Japan’s embassy in Seoul had said Moon was “masturbating” when describing his efforts to improve relations between the two nations.
“President Moon has decided not to visit Japan,” Moon’s press secretary Park Soo-hyun told a news conference. “As the Tokyo Olympics is a peaceful festival for all people around the world, we hope that Japan will host it safely and successfully.”
The latest uproar further inflamed relations between the two nations feuding over territorial claims and their wartime history, dashing any remaining hopes that the Olympic Games might offer a fresh start for bilateral and regional cooperation.
Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun earlier yesterday reported that Moon would meet Suga in Tokyo on Friday, in time for the start of the Olympics, but both governments quickly denied a meeting had been finalized, with Moon’s office citing a “last-minute obstacle.”
Suga and Moon were planning to discuss issues that have strained relations over generations, including compensation for Koreans forced to work in Japanese firms and military brothels during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule, the Yomiuri said.
Japan was also planning to replace the Seoul-based diplomat after his reported comments about Moon, the newspaper said.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that the ambassador had cautioned his deputy over the reported remarks.
“The remarks were inappropriate as a diplomat, and we think it is very regrettable,” Kato told a news conference.
Asked about the report about the diplomat’s removal, Kato said it was a matter for the minister of foreign affairs and did not provide further details.
A summit between the two leaders had not been decided, but if Moon decided to visit, Japan would accommodate him, Kato added.
South Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Choi Jong-kun on Saturday summoned Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi to protest.
“He also demanded the Japanese government promptly take tangible and due steps to prevent a recurrence of such a situation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Suga this month called relations between Japan and South Korea “very difficult,” adding that it was up to Seoul to address the problems.
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