Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking before leaving for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, said on Friday he wanted to convey to the world that cooperation among the United States, Japan and South Korea on the North Korean threat remained firm. Abe, who is set to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in later on Friday, said he and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence had reconfirmed that Washington and Tokyo stood together “100 percent” at meetings in the Japanese capital this week.
“Taking that into account, I want to make the leaders’ meeting (with Moon) one that sends the message to the world that U.S.-Japan-South Korea cooperation toward the North Korea threat will not waver,” Abe said. The North’s high-ranking delegation, including the younger sister of its leader Kim Jong Un, will meet Moon and have lunch with him on Saturday. The North-South Olympics detente has raised concerns in Washington and Tokyo that Seoul may ease up on a “maximum pressure” campaign by the United States and its allies to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes.
Abe also said he would convey to Moon Tokyo’s position on a 2015 bilateral agreement on “comfort women” – many Korean – who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War Two, while urging “future-oriented” two-way ties. 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.
Under the 2015 deal between Japan and South Korea, 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 has said the agreement failed to meet victims’ needs, calling for more steps. Abe, whose decision to attend the Games opening ceremony angered some of his conservative backers, has rejected those calls, saying the agreement will not be altered “by even one millimetre”.