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South Korean President Moon Jae-in will not attend Tokyo Olympics

South Korea has decided President Moon Jae-in will not visit Tokyo this week for the opening of the Olympic Games, the presidential Blue House announced Monday. Photo by Yonhap
South Korea has decided President Moon Jae-in will not visit Tokyo this week for the opening of the Olympic Games, the presidential Blue House announced Monday. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, July 19 (UPI) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in will not visit Japan this week for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics and a summit with his counterpart, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, a presidential spokesman announced Monday.

"President Moon Jae-in has decided not to visit Japan on the occasion of the Tokyo Olympics," Blue House spokesman Park Soo-hyun said in a press briefing.

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Seoul and Tokyo held "meaningful discussions," but the talks were "still insufficient" to result in a summit between the two leaders, Park said.

"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.

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"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.

South Korean broadcaster JTBC on Friday reported that a Japanese official, later confirmed by Tokyo to be Soma, described Moon's diplomatic efforts with Japan as "masturbating."

The remark led South Korean vice foreign minister Choi Jong-kun to summon Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Koichi Aiboshi on Saturday and lodge a protest.

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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."

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"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.

South Korea and Japan also have a long-running territorial dispute over islets in the sea between the two nations, known as Dokdo in Korea and Takeshima in Japan.

Minister of Sports, Culture and Tourism Hwang Hee will attend the Olympic opening ceremony Friday as a representative of the South Korean government, Park said.

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No spectators will be allowed during the Games, as Tokyo remains under a state of emergency due to surging COVID-19 infections.

Olympic torch makes relay to Tokyo

Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka lights the flame of hope in the Olympic cauldron at the Opening Ceremony for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on July 23. Photo by Richard Ellis/UPI | License Photo

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