TOKYO: Japan said Monday it would send its ambassador back to South Korea after a diplomatic row had prompted his recall, because the countries should work closely together to counter threats from North Korea.
The government ordered the envoy home in January over a statue placed by activists late last year outside its consulate in Busan.
The statue symbolises the plight of “comfort women”—a euphemism for women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II.
Japan says the statue violates the spirit of a 2015 agreement meant to settle the hugely emotional and decades-long issue with a Japanese apology and payment of money to survivors.
South Korea’s foreign minister said at the time that his government would “strive to solve” the issue of a similar statue that has stood across the street from Japan’s embassy in Seoul since 2011.
That one, which has become a symbol for activists campaigning on behalf of the few surviving former sex slaves, still stands and Japan saw the new one in the southern port city of Busan as unacceptable.
But intensifying concerns over North Korea’s nuclear and missile development prompted Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to announce that Ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine would return to Seoul on Tuesday.
“Japan and South Korea need to closely exchange information at high levels and closely communicate in order to deal with North Korean issues,” Kishida told reporters.
He said Japan would continue to urge South Korea to implement the “comfort women” accord after Nagamine returns.
Also behind the decision to send the ambassador back, Kishida said, was South Korea’s election in May to choose a successor to ousted president Park Geun-Hye.
The plight of the women—mostly from the then-Japanese colony of Korea—has marred relations for decades but the two governments reached an agreement in late 2015 to finally resolve it.
Under that accord, which both countries described as “final and irreversible,” Japan offered an apology and a one billion yen ($8.97 million) payment to surviving South Korean comfort women.
Critics said the deal did too little to hold Japan responsible for abuses during its 1910-45 rule over the Korean peninsula.
Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also other parts of Asia including China, were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during the war.