Protesters hold pictures of “comfort women” and of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe outside Japan's de facto embassy in Taipei, Taiwan yesterday. Picture: REUTERS
SEOUL/TAIPEI: South Korea marked its first “memorial day” yesterday for girls and women forced to work in Japan's wartime brothels, with both of the US allies expressing concern that the emotionally charged issue could undermine their relations.

Under a 2015 deal, Japan apologised to the “comfort women”, its euphemism for women - many of them Korean - forced to work in its wartime brothels, and provided a 1billion yen (now $133.51million) fund to help them.

But South Korea recently sought to revisit the issue.

“I hope that this issue will not lead to a diplomatic dispute between Korea and Japan. Nor do I see this is an issue that can be solved through diplomatic solutions between the two countries,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in comments marking the first “Memorial Day for Japanese Forces’ Comfort Women Victims”.

“It is an issue that can be solved only when the world, including ourselves and Japan, deeply reflects on sexual violence against all women and human rights problems and comes to a strong awareness and learns a lesson in a way that prevents this from ever repeating again.”

Japan insists the issue was resolved by the 2015 deal, struck with a previous, conservative South Korean administration.

A senior Japanese official said differences with South Korea on the matter could undermine efforts to “develop a future-oriented relationship”.

“We are concerned that this may spoil such endeavours,” said the Japanese official, who declined to be identified.

“We have reached out through diplomatic channels to stress the importance of steadily implementing the Japan-South Korea agreement,” the official said, referring to the 2015 deal.

The bitterness over Japan's wartime actions comes as concern about North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and missiles poses a threat to South Korea and Japan, both of which play host to US military bases.

Moon's administration has spotlighted the issue and called for Japan to do more, despite backing down in January from a demand to formally renegotiate the 2015 deal.

In March, Moon described Japan's wartime use of the women as a crime against humanity. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the remarks “extremely regrettable”. - Reuters