The Japanese consul general in Atlanta, Takashi Shinozuka, waded into a no-go area last week by denying that Korean women were forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops in World War II.
Shinozuka made the claim, which echoes the stance of far-right deniers in his home country, in an interview with the local Reporter Newspapers. He said there is "no evidence" that the Japanese imperial army forced the women into sexual slavery. The daily added that he described them as "paid prostitutes."
This is not the first time that a senior Japanese official has made the claim, which is contradicted by a mountain of evidence. In January last year, a lawmaker with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Yoshitaka Sakurada, made similar comments.
Shinozuka's outburst was prompted by a statue honoring the victims being unveiled in a park in Brookhaven, Georgia later this week.
Korea and Japan have a tacit agreement not to discuss the issue publicly on the international stage. But Shinozuka claimed that a controversial deal indirectly compensating the victims reached by the Park Geun-hye administration with Tokyo is "irreversible" and no further apologies are necessary.
He said the setting up of the statue in Brookhaven is "a symbol of hatred and resentment against Japan." Japan's Kyodo News reported that Shinsuke Sugiyama, a Japanese vice foreign minister, also met with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan to lobby in favor of the deal, which the new Korean government wants to review.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Joon-hyuk told reporters here on Tuesday it is "hard to believe that a senior diplomat made those comments" and pointed out that the claims were "inappropriate" and "went against the shared views of the international community" that the issue of the sex slaves constitutes a "grave human rights violation."
Seoul vowed to follow up through diplomatic channels.