A civic group installed a statue of a comfort woman in Busan in front of the Japanese consulate. This move by activists has implications much farther reaching than simply an activist statue. The statue, inaccurately representing comfort women as young girls, has caused much uproar between South Korea and Japan, possibly violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
The figure, weighing about 1 ton, was not removed by the South Korean government. In response to the installation, Japanese Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama relayed to South Korea’s Ambassador to Japan Lee Joon-gyu that the erection of the statue was “extremely regrettable,” and called for its immediate removal.
The statue’s presence was in direct offensive to the 2015 Comfort Women agreement, which would ultimately unfavorably influence bilateral ties. The comfort women issue has been sensitive between the two countries since the fall of the Japanese Empire after World War II.
Under the 2015 agreement, the countries bilaterally agreed to resolve the longstanding comfort women issue finally and irreversibly. The Japanese have deposited more than 1 billion yen in order to care for the surviving women and their families, whose numbers are dwelling at a rapid rate due to their old age.
The installation of the statue might even be an offense of international law according to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. This is an international treaty that outlines a framework for diplomacy between countries. Article 22 of the convention explicitly states:
“The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.”
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga claimed the Republic of Korea violated Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by impairing the Japanese dignity in front of a consulate in South Korea. The Japanese ambassador was removed from the country in 2017.