SEOUL – Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine met Monday with South Korea Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam amid the diplomatic row over a statue in Busan symbolizing Korean “comfort women” forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels.
Nagamine told reporters after the meeting that he and Lim discussed the situations in Syria and North Korea, but he did not say whether they talked about the statue, which sparked the diplomatic row that led to his being recalled to Japan in January in protest.
He had been expected to raise Japan’s request to have the statue removed and discuss implementation of an agreement signed between the two countries in 2015 to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the comfort women issue.
“The situations in Syria and North Korea have become urgent issues and there is the necessity for Japan and South Korea to stay close and forge cooperation,” Nagamine said.
He also stressed the importance of improving relations and increasing cooperation between the two neighbors, which last year concluded a bilateral agreement on sharing military intelligence.
Monday’s meeting came after South Korea’s defense and unification ministers rejected Japanese requests to meet with Nagamine.
Upon his return to Seoul last Tuesday, Nagamine expressed his hope to meet with South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, and other officials, saying it is “extremely important for Japan and South Korea to cooperate with each other in addressing the issue of North Korea and other issues.”
He also said then that he would be meeting with South Korean officials and urging them to implement the comfort women deal.
South Korea is still considering whether to accept his request to meet with Hwang.
Nagamine was recalled to Japan on Jan. 9 after the statue was erected by a citizens’ group outside the Japanese Consulate in Busan, which Tokyo says contravenes the 2015 agreement.
A similar statue has been standing in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul since 2011, causing a diplomatic rift.
In returning its envoy, Japan partly cited the need to coordinate with South Korea, which is in a transitional period ahead of the May 9 presidential election, in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat.