Japan on Monday recalled Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine and Consul General in Busan Yasuhiro Morimoto from South Korea, sparking a diplomatic row over the statue of a girl representing “comfort women,” who were forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
On Friday, a week after a civic group set up the statue in Busan, Tokyo announced a halt in negotiations on a currency swap deal with Korea and called off a high-level economic dialogue.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called on Korea to remove the statue. He said in a program aired on public broadcaster NHK that Japan has already paid 1 billion yen ($8.6 million) to Korea, sincerely fulfilling its obligation under an agreement on the comfort women issue. He added that it was Korea’s turn to show sincerity.
The governments of Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye reached the agreement in December 2015. Japan agreed to give 1 billion yen to a fund to help surviving comfort women.
Urging Seoul to comply with the deal, Abe said it is a matter of national credibility to implement the agreement.
But Japan has carried the statue issue too far. Tokyo should stop putting pressure on Korea over the statue.
Japan calls for Korea to remove the statue in a show of sincerity, as it fulfilled its obligation under the agreement.
However, such an argument only fuels anti-Japanese sentiment among Koreans. Linking a moral issue to money is diplomatically self-defeating. The pain the former sex slaves suffered cannot be measured in terms of money.
The priority of the deal is not money, but a sincere apology and repentance.
When it comes to sincerity, Japan has sometimes appeared two-faced.
Abe said in October last year that the Japanese government was not at all considering issuing apology letters to former Korean sex slaves, citing the deal.
Japan’s defense minister visited a controversial shrine to Japan’s war dead last month -- angering Korea and China -- just after accompanying Abe on his visit to Pearl Harbor, where Japan’s attack brought the US into World War II.
About two weeks after the agreement was signed, Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshitaka Sakurada said former wartime sex slaves were “professional prostitutes,” but apologized later.
If Japan is sincerely willing to fulfill its obligations to settle the comfort women issue, its leaders should not deny historical facts about sex slaves and other wartime atrocities, nor visit the shrine.
Denying history only hardens the hearts of the victims.
Tokyo should remove tablets for high-ranking war criminals from the shrine before asking Korea to remove the statue.
Abe’s utterance of “national credibility” is also disrespectful toward Koreans. Would Abe have the nerve to say such things to the incoming government across the Pacific Ocean?
The statue in Busan was placed by a civic group, not by the government. Under the accord, the Korean government only has to consult civic activists about their statues.
No government of a democratic state should take away the right of free expression from its citizens. If Abe wants to take issue with the statue, he should first address the actions of right-wing groups in Japan.
Tokyo should realize that a narrow-minded approach to the emotional, decadeslong issue will not help. The sex slave issue concerns not only Korea but also China and Southeast Asian countries. Japan’s high-handed attitude will only cause the affected countries to raise their guard.