Japan recalls envoy over new 'comfort woman' statue

Former comfort woman Kim Bok Dong (left) next to a statue of her during a rally in front of Japan's Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday. Another statue commemorating women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II, which went up in B
Former comfort woman Kim Bok Dong (left) next to a statue of her during a rally in front of Japan's Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday. Another statue commemorating women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II, which went up in Busan recently, has prompted Tokyo to recall its envoy to Seoul.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Tokyo says structure in Busan violates pact to resolve issue of forced WWII sex workers

TOKYO • Japan yesterday said it was temporarily recalling its ambassador to South Korea over a statue commemorating Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II which it said violated an agreement to resolve the issue.

The two Asian neighbours agreed in December 2015 that the issue of "comfort women", which has long plagued bilateral ties, 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 in Busan of a young, barefoot woman sitting in a chair is a copy of one that sits across the road from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. For more than five years, it has been a rallying point for supporters of the few surviving South Korean former sex slaves.

The Busan statue, placed by activists in front of Japan's consulate in the southern port city last week, was initially removed by the local authorities. But they did not stop it being put back after Japan's Defence Minister Tomomi Inada offered prayers at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo the next day.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, however, made no mention yesterday of Ms Inada's visit to the shrine, which honours millions of mostly Japanese war dead - but also senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes.

Her visit drew harsh criticism in South Korea as well as China.

Mr Suga said Japan would postpone bilateral "high-level"economic dialogue and that it was suspending talks on a new currency swap arrangement with South Korea.

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

"Without building relations of trust, it won't stabilise," Finance Minister Taro Aso said, referring to the currency swap arrangement.

South Korea's Finance Ministry expressed regret that talks on the currency swap deal had been suspended due to political reasons.

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

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US Vice-President Joe Biden touched on the issue in a phone conversation yesterday, the Foreign Ministry said.

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

Mr Biden told Mr Abe that Washington strongly expected South Korea and Japan to carry out the agreement, which it supports, a ministry statement said. Mr Abe agreed and said doing anything against the agreement was "not a constructive move", the statement added.

Despite the setback, both nations are still cooperating on North Korea. Their respective deputy foreign ministers agreed to keep up pressure on Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programmes during a meeting with their US counterpart Antony Blinken in Washington on Thursday.

South Korea agreed last year to deploy a US anti-missile system in the country after a string of nuclear and missile tests from the North. Seoul's decision prompted strong objections from Beijing.

South Korean Finance Minister Yoo Il Ho earlier this week said the government was looking into whether China's decision to deny applications by the country's carriers to add charter flights between the two countries over the Chinese New Year period was related to the planned deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2017, with the headline 'Japan recalls envoy over new 'comfort woman' statue'. Print Edition | Subscribe