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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 9)

All News 07:06 January 09, 2017

Japan's audacity
-Abe's case for removing ‘comfort women' statue is unacceptable-

A Korea-Japan diplomatic row is worsening over the recent establishment of another statue in honor of former Korean wartime sex slaves for the Japanese army.

Last week, Tokyo temporarily recalled Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine and Yasuhiro Morimoto, Japanese consul general in Busan, to protest the statue that a civic group set up in front of the Consulate General building in the southeastern port city.

Japan has committed a grave offense by recalling two of its top diplomats in Korea before making any effort through diplomatic channels to resolve the countries' differences over the statue, which is a copy of the one in front of the Japanese Embassy in central Seoul.

During a TV interview Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pressured Korea to remove the statue, underlining that the issue of the so-called comfort women had been finally resolved with a 2015 bilateral deal.

He also called on Korea's next administration to honor the deal, saying it was a question of "credibility" to follow up on a diplomatic agreement despite a change of power.

Abe's audacious case for removing the statue is completely unacceptable from the prospective of a majority of Koreans who claim that the Korea-Japan deal did little to ease the suffering of the victims of sexual slavery before and during World War II. Many surviving victims have also strongly protested the deal because they still believe that Japan has offered neither a sincere apology nor due compensation for the decades of indescribable shame they have endured.

A truly responsible step for Japan is to stop demanding the removal of the statue. Tokyo's hostile reaction toward the statues, which are a reminder of Japan's wartime aggression, is completely inappropriate.

As an aggressor, Japan is in no position to attach strings to any conciliatory gesture toward the women, such as its agreement to provide 1 billion yen ($10.28 million) for a foundation to support the surviving victims.

At such a difficult time for Korea's diplomacy, an absence of leadership is triggering grave concerns. The presidential impeachment has weakened Korea's diplomatic capacity. Under the circumstances, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has only been able to take a low-key approach toward Japan's protest against the statues.

Japan's protest presents additional challenges for Korea's diplomacy, which already faces a series of complex tasks with the onset of a new U.S. administration and rising conflict with China over deploying a U.S. missile defense system here.

Korea should closely consult with Japan to reach a compromise on the comfort women statues. Seoul should try its utmost to gain Japan's understanding that because a civic group set up the statues, the government is unable to unilaterally remove them.

Tokyo should continue to do its part to console the victims of its wartime aggression, not make unacceptable demands that will only damage bilateral ties.

Despite the countries' longstanding historical row, there is no question that Korea and Japan are indispensable economic and cultural partners. It is in the interest of both countries to keep bilateral relations moving forward.

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