SEOUL – South Korea expressed regret Friday about Japan recalling its ambassador over the new “comfort women” statue in Busan, and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se summoned the envoy to discuss the matter.
Earlier in the day, the Japanese government announced that it was temporarily recalling Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine to protest the erection last week of a statue outside the Japanese Consulate in the southern port city of Busan.
Describing Japan’s decision as “extremely regrettable,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement that “both countries should continue to develop South Korea-Japan relations, based on a relationship of trust between the governments, even if there are difficult issues.”
Later in the afternoon, Yun summoned Nagamine to the ministry and is believed to have directly conveyed Seoul’s regret over Tokyo’s decision to recall Nagamine, as well as Yasuhiro Morimoto, the consul general in Busan.
Separately, South Korea’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance expressed regret that Japan has also decided to suspend talks on resuming bilateral currency swap arrangements.
“It is desirable that economic cooperation between South Korea and Japan should keep going on without being related to political and diplomatic issues,” it said in a statement.
Japan has called for the immediate removal of the statue, which features a barefooted young girl sitting on a chair, representing females “procured” for the Imperial Japanese military’s wartime brothels before and during World War II. Japan euphemistically refers to them as comfort women.
A similar statue set up by a civic group has been sitting outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul since 2011. The South Korean government apparently has so far not intervened to have the sensitive statue removed.
Last Friday, when the latest statue was erected in Busan by a civic group, the Foreign Ministry said it was necessary to consider the appropriate location for it out of international courtesy and custom with regard to diplomatic offices.
But by Tuesday, the ministry spokesman’s tone had changed, describing the issue as “a case for relevant authorities to decide based on law.”
Despite a landmark deal in 2015 between the two countries to resolve the comfort women issue permanently, it remains a major thorn in bilateral relations.