S. Korea's foreign minister raps Hashimoto's remarks as 'shameful'

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se on Monday rapped Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto's latest remarks on the so-called comfort women issue as "embarrassing and shameful" and said Japanese politicians "retrogressive words and deeds" pose obstacles for high-level bilateral exchanges with Japan.

"By making such remarks, Japan will be further isolated in the international community," Yun told a press conference when asked to respond to Hashimoto's suggestion, made earlier Monday in a press conference in Tokyo, that the comfort women issue be settled at the International Court of Justice.

"Many see such remarks as being far below common sense, embarrassing and shameful. If he made such remarks at the U.N. General Assembly or the U.S. Congress, that would cause serious damage to Japan's many conscientious people," Yun said.

"It's considerably disappointing to see various developments in Japan, and more recently, retrogressive words and deeds are pouring cold water on our government's will to improve friendly ties with Japan," he added.

"Unless this atmosphere is improved, not only the top-level, but other various high-level exchanges will not be easy to be made."

Yun lamented that the Japanese government has not responded to Seoul's call for bilateral talks on compensation for comfort women.

South Korea views women who provided sex to Japanese soldiers in so-called comfort stations in military facilities during World War II as sex slaves, but the Japanese governments insist there is no evidence that the women were coerced.

Hashimoto recently sparked outrage among the public in South Korea and elsewhere by saying the system of sexual servitude during World War II was necessary to maintain discipline in the Japanese military.

However, Yun also stressed the importance of deepening cooperation with Japan in the economic, private-level and cultural areas in the wake of souring of bilateral ties over issues relating to Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

"Despite these difficulties in the issue of the past history, South Korea shares with Japan values of democracy and market economy and also strategic interests over the issues like North Korea," he said.

Yun said Seoul will remain in close contact with Tokyo in dealing with North Korea-related issues, while dealing "resolutely" with issues related to history.

In a related development, four South Korean female lawmakers earlier Monday departed for Japan to protest against its rightwing politicians' suggestions that the Japanese military was justified in using comfort women during World War II, Yonhap News Agency reported.

"These reckless remarks on sex slaves recur because the Japanese government has not fundamentally repented for its colonial rule over Korea," You Seung Hee, a lawmaker from the main opposition Democratic Party who is among the four, told Yonhap by phone.

"We will strongly urge the Japanese government to apologize and provide legal compensation," she said.

You, a member of a parliamentary committee on women and family affairs, will visit Japan together with Kim Hee Jung, Ryu Ji Young and Kim Hyun, all of whom are lawmakers from the ruling Saenuri Party and members of the same committee.

The lawmakers plan to present Japanese lawmakers with a resolution You submitted to the National Assembly last week that condemns the Japanese politicians' remarks on comfort women and calls for an official apology.

They also plan to visit the Philippines later this week to meet with Filipino victims of Japan's sex slavery and meet with Philippine lawmakers over ways to jointly handle the issue.