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Japan pulls ambassador to S. Korea over new "comfort women" statue

Japan has decided to temporarily recall Ambassador to South
Korea Yasumasa Nagamine in response to the installation of a new
statue dedicated to "comfort women" in the country, the government's
top spokesman said Friday.
The statue is the same design as statues erected outside Japan's
embassy in Seoul and in several locations overseas.
Japan will also recall Yasuhiro Morimoto, its consul general in
Busan, halt talks on a planned currency swap and put off high-level
economic dialogue with South Korea as part of an "initial" response
to erection of the statue, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga
said at a press conference.
"We've repeatedly asked South Korea to handle the resolution of
this issue appropriately, but the situation hasn't improved, so we've
taken this action," Suga said.
Suga said the new statue is "extremely problematic considering
the agreement between Japan and South Korea" in December 2015 aimed
at fully settling the comfort women issue.
He said the installation "exerts an undesirable effect on
Japan-South Korea relations," as well as going against the Vienna
Convention on Consular Relations. The convention, to which Japan and
South Korea are parties, requires host nations to protect consulates
against "intrusion" or disturbance of the peace.
Addressing the halting of the currency swap talks, Finance
Minister Taro Aso told reporters Friday "such things can't be made
stable unless they are done having properly built a relationship of
trust."
The South Korean Foreign Ministry promptly criticized Japan's
response as "extremely regrettable."
"The government emphasizes once again 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," the ministry said in a statement released Friday.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se summoned Nagamine to
his ministry later Friday and is believed have directly conveyed
Seoul's regret over the move.
Nagamine is expected to return to Japan next week, according to
a Japanese source.
Many of the known comfort women were from the Korean Peninsula,
which was under Japan's colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. A Japanese
government study in the early 1990s concluded that in many cases the
women were recruited against their will.
The statue depicts a girl in traditional Korean clothing seated
on a chair, with an empty chair beside her.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry had initially responded to the
statue's installation last week by saying it is important to take
international courtesy and custom regarding diplomatic offices into
account when considering the appropriate location.
But the ministry changed its tone by Tuesday, describing the
issue as "a case for relevant authorities to decide based on law."
Under the 2015 bilateral deal, South Korea set up a foundation
into which Japan deposited 1 billion yen ($8.6 million) to care for
the surviving women and their families. South Korea said at the time
it will "strive to solve" the issue of the statue in Seoul "in an
appropriate manner."
According to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, U.S. Vice President
Joe Biden told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a telephone call Friday
morning that the United States supports the agreement and has firm
hopes Japan and South Korea will both steadily implement it.
"It continues to be important for the governments of both Japan
and South Korea to take responsibility in executing (the deal), and
it is not constructive to do things that run counter to that," the
ministry quoted Abe as telling Biden.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the same
view as Biden to Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama in
a bilateral meeting Thursday in Washington, the ministry said.
The senior officials had met with their South Korean
counterpart, First Vice Foreign Minister Lim Sung Nam, earlier
Thursday and confirmed an "unshakable" unity in responding to North
Korea.
The statue issue comes amid political turmoil in South Korea,
where the parliament impeached President Park Geun Hye last month
following a political scandal. Her powers have been transferred to
acting president and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn.
Prior to the scandal, Abe and Park had hailed progress in
bilateral relations. Park had been tipped to make her first visit to
Japan since taking office in 2013 for a trilateral summit with Abe
and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Abe had expressed his "most sincere apologies and remorse" for
the suffering of the women in telephone talks with Park when the
bilateral deal was struck in 2015. (Jan. 6)