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Japanese gov't protests invitation of former 'comfort woman' to Trump banquet

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga answers questions about the South Korean government inviting a former comfort woman to a banquet held for U.S. President Donald Trump, at the prime minister's office in Tokyo on Nov. 7, 2017. (Mainichi)

SEOUL -- The banquet attended by U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in on Nov. 7 is facing a backlash from the Japanese government for intentionally displaying delicate issues in Japanese-South Korean relations.

A former "comfort woman" was invited to attend the banquet, and cuisine using shrimp caught off the waters around the disputed islets of Takeshima (or Dokdo in Korean) were served as "Dokdo shrimp." At a press conference, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga decried, "It is critical to avoid actions which would have a bad influence on the close ties between Japan, the United States and South Korea."

The Japanese government also suggested that inviting the comfort woman "went against the spirit of the 2015 agreement between the Japanese and South Korean governments over the comfort women issue." Suggestions concerning the relationship between other countries are rare, and are effectively a protest.

Under the 2015 bilateral agreement, both countries are supposed to "refrain from accusing or criticizing one another on the world stage," and Suga emphasized, "We persistently request the consistent implementation of the agreement." Liberal Democratic Party Policy Research Council Chairman and then Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida also commented, "I would like to see the South Korean government take firm action on the matter."

The former comfort woman invited to the banquet was Lee Yong-soo, who testified to her experiences during World War II to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. The resulting House resolution requesting the Japanese government apologize to former comfort women caused diplomatic friction between the first Abe Cabinet and the United States. A film based on Lee's life is currently extremely popular in South Korea, and had attracted some 3.3 million movie-goers as of Nov. 7.

A source close to South Korea's Blue House commented, "The comfort women issue exists between Japan and South Korea where Mr. Trump has visited," and explained that the aim was to appeal their case to the U.S. Among President Moon's support base, there are many who strongly oppose the 2015 bilateral agreement, and the invitation of Lee appears to be a domestically motivated action. At the banquet, President Moon looked on as President Trump and Lee embraced.

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