South Korea will closely communicate with Japan to resolve the ongoing row over a statue symbolizing the victims of Japan's wartime sexual enslavement "as quickly as possible," the top diplomat said Monday.
In January, Japan recalled its ambassador to Seoul in protest of the so-called girl statue recently erected in front of its consulate in the southern port city of Busan. The ambassador has not come back to Seoul.
The statue, along with the one standing before Tokyo's embassy in Seoul, has been a source of fresh diplomatic friction. Japan has demanded their immediate removals, while Seoul argues that they have a limited power in doing so as they were built by civic groups.
"We are going to have communication with Japan on a minister level as well to resolve this matter as quickly as possible," Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told lawmakers during a parliamentary committee meeting.
His remarks were interpreted as a reference to his meeting with Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida expected to be held on the sidelines of the gathering of foreign ministers from a Group of 20 countries in Germany followed by the Munich Security Conference.
Yun said that both South Korea and Japan think it is "deplorable" in that the controversy over the statue flared up at a time when their relations showed signs of improvement since 2015, when the two reached a deal on Japan's sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
Under the deal reached on Dec. 28, 2015, Japan apologized and agreed to provide 1 billion yen (US$9.4 million) for the creation of a foundation aimed at supporting the victims, euphemistically called comfort women. Tokyo argues that installing such statues is against the spirit of the deal aimed at resolving the issue "once and for all."
Critics in Seoul demand the government cancel the accord, saying that the Japanese government still refuses to recognize its legal responsibility and denied the women were forcefully recruited to the front-line military brothels. The deal was reached even without consultation with the victims, they said.
Yun, meanwhile, called for the relevant regional government and civic groups to "gather wisdom" to find a "more appropriate" site for the statue in Busan, saying that the issue should be approached from the perspective of protecting safety of diplomatic missions.
"I am not opposed to erecting girl statues," he said. "(But) it is still not desirable to build any sculpture in front of diplomatic missions in view of global courtesy and practice."
The minister, however, emphasized that the statue issue should be dealt with as a separate matter from the Dec. 28 agreement. (Yonhap)