TOKYO: Japan expressed strong regret Friday over San Francisco's decision to give city property status to a statue commemorating Asian women who worked in military brothels for Japanese troops during World War II, with Osaka declaring it will terminate its 60-year sister-city ties.
The signing of legislation making the memorial public property "destroyed trust," Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura said. "We will scrap our sister-city relationship with San Francisco." He said Osaka will no longer contribute public money to privately organized cultural exchanges between the two cities.
The statue was erected by California's Korean, Chinese and Filipino communities.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said San Francisco's decision challenges Japan's position and was "extremely regrettable." He said similar statues that have been built in various countries interfere with a 2015 agreement between Japan and South Korea to resolve the historical dispute.
Historians say tens of thousands of women around Asia were sent to work in Japanese military brothels, often through coercion and deception. Japan apologized in 1993 but the issue has remained an open rift with its neighbors, particularly South Korea which has strong memories of Japan's brutal colonization from 1910 to 1945.
After a gradual pullback from the apology, Japan's government now denies that the women, called "comfort women" in Japanese, were forced into sexual slavery, citing a lack of official documentary proof, and says the statue wrongfully blames Japan.
In the 2015 deal, Japan and South Korea agreed that Tokyo would pay 1 billion yen ($9 million) to support the surviving South Korean victims, and both sides pledged to avoid actions that would antagonize the other.
Suga also criticized the South Korean parliament's passage on Friday of legislation designating Aug. 14 as a day to commemorate the suffering of the Korean "comfort women," saying it violated the spirit of the 2015 agreement and that Japan has lodged a protest. The date is when a victim, the late Kim Hak-soon, became the first to publicly speak out about her ordeal in 1991. She was followed by hundreds of others.
The agreement calls for efforts by both sides to build a "future-oriented" relationship.