Japan recalls ambassador over ‘comfort women’ statue

Japanese government takes action against South Korea over commemoration

File photograph of former ‘comfort woman’ Kim Bok-dong near a statue of her in Seoul, South Korea. File photograph: Yonhap/EPA

File photograph of former ‘comfort woman’ Kim Bok-dong near a statue of her in Seoul, South Korea. File photograph: Yonhap/EPA

 

Japan said on Friday it was temporarily recalling its ambassador to South Korea over a statue commemorating the Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the second World War, claiming the statue violated an agreement between the two nations.

The two nations reached an agreement in 2015 that the issue of the “comfort women”, which has long plagued ties between the two Asian neighbours, would be “finally and irreversibly resolved” if all conditions of the accord - which included a Japanese apology and a fund to help the victims - were met.

The statue, which depicts a young, barefoot woman sitting in a chair, was erected near the Japanese consulate in the southern South Korean city of Busan at the end of last year.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the statue was “extremely regrettable” and that Japan was temporarily recalling its ambassador as a result.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and US vice-president Joe Biden touched on the issue in a phone conversation on Friday, Japan’s foreign ministry said.

The US, keen for improved ties between its two major Asian allies in the face of an assertive China and an unpredictable North Korea, had welcomed the 2015 agreement.

Mr Biden had told Mr Abe that Washington expected the two nations to carry out the agreement, which it supports, a ministry statement said.

Mr Abe had agreed and said that doing anything against the agreement was “not a constructive move”, the statement added.

Talks suspended

Mr Suga said Japan will postpone “high-level” economic dialogue between the two countries and suspend talks on a new currency swap arrangement with South Korea as a result of the row.

“Without building relations of trust, it won’t stabilise,” minister for finance Taro Aso told reporters, referring to the currency swap arrangement.

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism for girls and women, from South Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the second World War.

South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims.

South Korea’s ministry for finance on Friday expressed regret that talks on the currency swap agreement had been suspended due to political reasons.

Reuters