Berlin/Seoul – Authorities in a central Berlin district said on Thursday that they have rescinded approval for a statue erected last month that symbolizes Korean "comfort women" — who suffered under Japan’s military brothel system before and during World War II — amid objections from Tokyo.
The Mitte district is asking a pro-South Korea civic group to remove the comfort women statue by Wednesday. The Japanese government expressed regret over the statue in Berlin after it was installed in a public location in late September.
On Friday in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato welcomed the rescission, saying, "We perceive it as a positive move and will continue to monitor the situation."
Recent moves by South Korean or affiliated groups to build similar statues in the Asian country and abroad, such as in the United States, have been a source of tension in the already soured relationship between Tokyo and Seoul.
Local authorities in Berlin had green-lit the installation for a period of one year on the grounds that the project opposes wartime sexual violence, but ultimately changed their position, saying the district should remain neutral on matters between Japan and South Korea.
The district said the installation of the statue has triggered frustration in Berlin and Japan. Pointing out that the statue is related to a conflict between two states, District Mayor Stephan von Dassel said that creating such an installation in Germany is not appropriate.
The civic group that played a key role in the setting up of the statue says it will continue talks with the district, with the aim of keeping the statue on display in a public place.
Issues stemming from Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula, including reparations for wartime labor, have hampered the building of warmer ties between Japan and South Korea.
Many in South Korea believe that Japan has not shown enough contrition for its militarist past, including the comfort women issue, while Japan maintains that the two countries already settled wartime issues when they sealed a bilateral agreement in 1965.
The statue in question, which depicts a life-sized girl, is the third of its kind erected in Germany. While the first two were installed on private land, the latest was placed along a street in the capital with permission from authorities.