Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced on Jan. 6 that Japan will temporarily recall Ambassador to South Korea Yasumasa Nagamine and suspend talks on a bilateral currency swap agreement in response to the installation of a girl's statue representing wartime "comfort women" in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan.
Suga suggested that the Japanese government viewed the statue as running counter to the bilateral accord on the comfort women issue reached in December 2015. With the latest move, which Suga described as an "interim measure," Tokyo will demand Seoul steadily implement the 2015 accord and immediately remove the girl's statue.
Specifically, Japan will recall Ambassador Nagamine and Consul General in Busan Yasuhiro Morimoto, suspend talks on a currency swap accord, keep staff at the Consulate-General of Japan in Busan from attending events related to the city of Busan, and postpone bilateral high-level economic talks.
Japanese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama informed these countermeasures to South Korean First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lim Sung-nam in the predawn hours of Jan. 6, Japan time. Both Sugiyama and Lim were visiting the United States for vice-ministerial talks between Japan, the United States and South Korea.
Suga said the erection of the girl's statue "is extremely regrettable as it gives unfavorable effects on Japan-South Korea relations and undermines the dignity of diplomatic missions as specified under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."
The top government spokesman also said the statue runs counter to the 2015 bilateral agreement that confirmed a "final and irreversible solution" to the comfort women issue. "The Republic of Korea is a country that is crucial to Japan. It is such a shame that we have had to take these kinds of measures, but we want the country to keep to its promise," Suga said.
With regard to the period of those countermeasures, Suga said Tokyo will make a decision after judging the situation in a comprehensive manner.
When a civic group first attempted to install the girl's statue on a sidewalk in front of the Japanese Consulate General in Busan on Dec. 28, Busan's Dong-gu district office didn't grant permission for the occupancy of roads and forcibly removed the statue. However, after the office was flooded with calls criticizing the removal, the office made a turnaround and tacitly approved the statue's installation.
On Dec. 30, the civic group reinstalled the statue, over which the Japanese government filed a protest. However, the South Korean government stopped short of meddling in the matter and left the issue up to the discretion of the Dong-gu office.
During a telephone conversation on the morning of Jan. 6, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that the United States supports the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement and expects the two countries to steadily implement the accord. In response, Abe told Biden, "It is essential for Tokyo and Seoul to carry out the agreement in a responsible manner. It is not constructive to run counter to the accord."
Meanwhile, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs called Japan's countermeasures "very regrettable" in a statement it released on Jan. 6, adding, "We once again emphasize the need to continuously develop Republic of Korea-Japan relations based on a relationship of trust between the two governments, no matter what difficult problems we may face."