SEOUL – Japanese Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine urged South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Tuesday to remove a “comfort woman” statue that has been the source of a diplomatic row, a source close to the matter said.
The two met for the first time since the envoy returned to Seoul on April 4, after he was recalled to Japan for three months as a retaliatory measure by Tokyo over the erection of the statue commemorating Korean women forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels, in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan.
The meeting was held behind closed doors except for the outset of the talks. Marc Knapper, acting U.S. ambassador to South Korea, also joined the meeting as the three diplomats reaffirmed trilateral cooperation in dealing with the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile development, the source said.
In the one-on-one talks with Yun, held after Knapper left the room, Nagamine asked that the statue in Busan, erected by a South Korean civic group last December, and a similar statue installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul be removed, the source said.
Tokyo claims the statues go against the spirit of a 2015 bilateral agreement under which the two countries confirmed they had “finally and irreversibly” settled the row over the comfort women issue.
Nagamine reiterated Japan’s call for South Korea to comply with the 2015 agreement in his meeting with Yun, the source said.
According to a South Korean government source, Yun noted the need for all parties to respect the spirit of the agreement and for the South Korean government to gain the understanding of the civic group and others who set up the statues.
The terms of the agreement included an apology and a financial pledge by Japan of ¥1 billion ($9 million) to establish a South Korean foundation to support the aging women and their families.
Although no progress has been made on the issue of statues, Japan nevertheless decided to return Nagamine to his post, citing the need to cooperate with South Korea in addressing the North Korea and to gather information ahead of the South Korean presidential election on May 9.
All five major candidates running for the presidential election are calling to either scrap or review the comfort women agreement.
Upon his return, Nagamine expressed his hope to meet with South Korea’s Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, but a meeting has not been realized.
The ambassador met with South Korea Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung-nam on April 10 but did not say at the time whether he had raised the matter.