SEOUL – The South Korean Foreign Ministry has sent an official letter to a district office in Busan asking that a contentious statue symbolizing the women forced into Imperial Japanese military brothels before and during the war be removed from its spot outside the Japanese Consulate, a ministry spokesman said Thursday.
“The Foreign Ministry has repeated the position the location of a statue . . . is not desirable in view of the comity of nations and international practices, and, in this regard, (the ministry) has delivered such position to the local office,” ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a news briefing.
“It is necessary for the government, local governments and civic groups to use wisdom in thinking about where the statue of ‘comfort women’ be relocated in a such way to remember the ‘comfort women’ issue as a historical lesson for a long time,” he added, using Japan’s euphemism for the sex slaves.
Asked about how the district office reacted to the letter, Cho said he had not received a reply yet. The consulate and the statue are in Dong.
Cho’s was responding to local news reports earlier in the day about a letter sent to the Dong district office on Feb. 14, asking officials there to relocate the statue.
Yonhap News Agency cited a local official as saying the district has no authority to order the statue’s removal.
The statue, set up by a South Korean civic group in front of the Japanese Consulate in December, has rekindled a diplomatic row over the sex slave issue with Japan that was supposed to have been settled by a recent landmark bilateral accord.
Japan has demanded that South Korea remove the Busan statue and a similar one outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which requires that the hosting state prevent any disturbance of the peace of a diplomatic mission or impairment of its dignity.
The installation of the statue in Busan, despite the landmark 2015 agreement to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the protracted comfort women dispute, prompted Tokyo to recall Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine.
Japan has said Nagamine will not return to his post unless it sees progress on the statue issue. The Seoul statue, erected by a civic group in 2011, is the only one specifically mentioned in the comfort women accord.
The Japanese government’s top spokesman refrained from issuing a specific response to the report on Thursday, stressing the importance of both governments taking responsibility for implementing the 2015 agreement.
“The South Korean government has continually shown there has been no change to its position that it will steadily implement the agreement,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
“We will continue to take every opportunity to resolutely seek South Korea’s steady implementation of the agreement, including (by addressing) the statue issue,” Suga said.
Suga added that the government will make a decision about when to return Nagamine to his post “in a comprehensive manner looking at the various factors.”