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Japan to demand ‘comfort women’ statue outside embassy in Seoul be removed

Kyodo

The Abe administration plans to demand that South Korea remove the “comfort woman” statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul as part of any agreement resolving disputes over wartime history, according to sources.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may consider expanding support to Korean women who worked in wartime brothels for the Japanese military after obtaining a firm promise the statue will be removed, the sources said Sunday.

The 1.2-meter-tall statue of a girl was erected in 2011, and since then has been what a high-ranking source described as “a headache” for Japan.

Japan believes the statue’s removal would send a message of reconciliation, as differing views of wartime history have been one of the impediments to improving bilateral ties.

The administration is also expected to call for the removal of similar statues erected elsewhere in South Korea, the sources said.

Abe and President Park Geun-hye, when they met earlier this month for their first one-on-one talks since taking office, agreed to resolve the comfort women issue as soon as possible, and Park has urged Japan to present a solution that is “acceptable to the victims and deemed reasonable by the Korean people.”

However, during talks last Wednesday between diplomats from the two countries, South Korea rejected Japan’s demand that the statue be removed.

Japan has maintained that everything to do with compensation was settled under the 1965 bilateral treaty that normalized diplomatic ties.

The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

One idea floated within the Japanese government and the ruling parties is to expand medical and welfare support to former comfort women that has been available since fiscal 2008, according to the sources. Around ¥13 million was allocated for this aid in the fiscal 2014 budget.

Some within the Abe administration believe that the Seoul statue, if left standing, will spread the misperception that Japan as a whole was repeatedly involved in criminal acts.

“If South Korea is serious about solving the issue, it too should make efforts,” a source within the prime minister’s office said.

However, Japan’s stance may give South Korea a reason to criticize Tokyo for not having atoned enough for the past, observers said.