Why is a statue stoking old tensions between Japan and South Korea?

Japan said today that it had chose to temporarily recall its ambassador to South Korea to protest the placing of a statue symbolising victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery outside its consulate in the city of Busan last month.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the statue was "extremely regrettable" and that Japan was temporarily recalling its ambassador as a result. The women were repeatedly raped and often subjected to sexually transmitted diseases.

"We regret that the talks on the Korea-Japan currency swap deal was suspended due to political and diplomatic issues", the Ministry of Strategy and Finance said in a statement, adding, "It is desirable that the two countries continue bilateral economic and financial cooperation regardless of political and diplomatic relations".

On Dec. 28, the statue was installed by activists near the Japanese consulate in the port city of Busan. Since the agreement was announced previous year, activists have maintained a 24-hour vigil to ensure the statue is not removed.

Japan says the statue violates a previous agreement on the issue.

Tokyo has long demanded the removal of another statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

The statues - which depict a young, barefoot woman sitting in a chair - have become powerful symbols of the hardships those women endured. There are believed to be 46 surviving victims in South Korea.

"We thought they would do something about the statue in Seoul, but instead we ended up with more statues", said an official close to Abe, calling the new one in Busan a "step too far". Activists claim there were as many as 200,000 Korean women forced into prostitution while others came from China, the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.

However, critics said the agreement had failed to hold Japan responsible for wartime abuses.

What has Japan said about this?

The ministry spokesman said in the statement that even if there are hard issues, the two governments must continue to foster bilateral relations based on trust.

Mr Biden told Mr Abe that Washington strongly expected South Korea and Japan to carry out the agreement, which it supports, a ministry statement said.

  • Rogelio Becker