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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 10)

All News 07:15 February 10, 2017

Japanese ambassador's absence

A month has passed since Japanese Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine and Yasuhiro Morimoto, the Japanese consul general in Busan, were recalled by Tokyo on Jan. 9 to protest the "girl statue" that a civic group set up in front of the Consulate General building in Busan.

The statue was built to remember the suffering of Korean women who were forced to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese Army before and during World War II. But Japan has called for the removal of the statues, claiming that they undermine the dignity of its diplomatic missions.

Since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1965, such a prolonged absence of a Japanese ambassador in Korea is unprecedented. In 2012, Japan's top envoy Masatoshi Muto temporarily returned to his home country to protest then-President Lee Myung-bak's visit to Dokdo, but resumed his duties in Seoul 12 days later.

It is feared that Korea-Japan ties will worsen in the weeks ahead. On Feb. 22 Japan will hold a "Takeshima Day" event which highlights Tokyo's sovereignty claims over Dokdo, known as Takeshima in Japan. In March, Japan's education authority is expected to revise curriculum guidelines for school textbooks to emphasize it sovereignty over Dokdo.

The dilemma for Seoul lies in that it is very difficult to convince the civic group to remove the statue for fear of inflaming public sentiment. But the foreign ministry also needs to find a way to deliver its share of a 2015 bilateral deal, which aimed to resolve the dispute over the so-called comfort women. Tokyo has claimed that since it has kept its part of the deal to finance a fund for supporting the surviving victims, it's time for Seoul to act on removing the statues.

The recent diplomatic tension shows that there are still a lot of misunderstandings between the two countries over the 2015 deal.

During the G-20 foreign minister's meeting, Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se should meet his counterpart Fumio Kishida and discuss ways to improve bilateral ties despite differences over historical conflicts. Tokyo should also return its ambassador to Korea at an early date to normalize diplomatic relations.

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