SEOUL -- While South Korea has taken the contentious "comfort women" issue to the U.N. General Assembly, it was learned that Tokyo had asked Seoul not to take that step.
On Oct. 11, South Korea raised the issue of former comfort women, who were forced to provide sex for Imperial Japanese Army soldiers, at the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs) of the U.N. General Assembly in New York and argued that the women have the right to claim individual compensation.
In the meantime, it was learned that Tokyo had informally asked Seoul not to take up the issue at the United Nations. Out of consideration for Japan, South Korea did not name Japan in its initial speech, but it criticized Japan explicitly during a surrebuttal following Japan's rebuttal.
Some in the South Korean government are voicing distrust at the way Japan has dealt with the matter, spawning the possibility that the comfort women issue might be taken up during a bilateral summit to be held in Seoul on Oct. 19.
The development may also have a negative impact on Tokyo's plan to have President Lee Myung-bak visit Japan in December.
According to the South Korean government, Tokyo informally asked Seoul on multiple occasions not to take up the comfort women issue at the U.N. General Assembly's Third Committee. In doing so, Tokyo cited the fact that Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, during a visit to South Korea on Oct. 6-7, called for reinforcement of bilateral cooperation and that Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also plans to visit South Korea on Oct. 18-19. Seoul held discussions on how to respond to Japan's requests, and decided against naming Japan in its U.N. speech to facilitate smooth bilateral relations. Some hard-liners argued against that tactic, however, citing the Aug. 30 ruling by the Constitutional Court of Korea that the South Korean government's failure to act on the comfort women issue was unconstitutional.
Given this context, Seoul expressed surprise that Tokyo voiced its opinion in rebuttal at the Third Committee that the issue had been settled in legal terms.
"That resulted in the explicit naming of Japan in our surrebuttal," said a South Korean government official. "Japan mishandled the matter."
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