Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, will not travel to Japan this week for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics and a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, according to a presidential spokeswoman.
“President Moon Jae-in has chosen not to visit Japan during the Tokyo Olympics,” said Park Soo-hyun, a spokesman for the Blue House.
According to Park, Seoul and Tokyo had “serious discussions,” but they were “still insufficient” to lead to a summit between the two presidents.
“We discussed the issues between the two countries in general, and the ultimate goal was to restore relations, but further discussion was still needed,” he said.
“This decision was made comprehensively in consideration of other circumstances,” he added, in apparent reference to a controversy over comments made last week by Hirohisa Soma, deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Moon’s diplomatic efforts with Japan were labelled as “masturbating” by a Japanese official, later confirmed by Tokyo to be Soma, according to South Korean television JTBC on Friday.
South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun summoned Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi on Saturday to express his displeasure with the comments.
Aiboshi later issued a press release to local media, calling the remarks “extremely inappropriate and very regrettable.”
“I have sternly cautioned Minister Soma after receiving his briefing,” Aiboshi said.
Park called Soma’s remarks, which sparked public outcry, “unacceptable.”
“Public sentiment had to be taken into account, and the atmosphere inside the Blue House had become skeptical” about the summit, he said.
Public opinion in South Korea has been against Moon visiting Japan, with 60.2% opposed, according to a recent survey by pollster Realmedia.
“The Japanese government should take appropriate follow-up measures as soon as possible to prevent such unfortunate incidents from occurring again in the future,” Park added.
The incident was the latest flare-up in the historically fraught relationship between Tokyo and Seoul. Tensions have been heightened in recent years over disagreements between the countries on compensation for Japan’s use of wartime forced laborers and so-called comfort women sex slaves.
A long-running territorial dispute exists between South Korea and Japan over islets in the sea known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.
Minister of Sports, Culture, and Tourism Hwang Hee will represent the South Korean government at the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday, according to Park.
Spectators will not be permitted to attend the Games because Tokyo is still in a state of emergency owing to an outbreak of COVID-19.