South Korea on Wednesday announced the formal shutdown of a controversial Japanese-funded foundation created to help former wartime sex slaves — a move that will further sour ties between the neighbours.
It sparked a sharp reaction from Tokyo, which summoned the South Korean ambassador and urged Seoul to respect its “international promise”.
The issue of the women forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during the Second World War — so-called “comfort women” — is a highly emotional one that has marred the relationship between South Korea and its former colonial ruler Japan for decades.
Despite both being democracies, market economies and US allies which have to contend with the twin threats of an overbearing China and nuclear-armed North Korea, ties between Seoul and Tokyo are heavily coloured by disputes over history and territory.
The foundation was created as a result of a controversial 2015 bilateral deal, in which Tokyo transferred 1 billion yen ($8.8 million at current exchange rates) as compensation for the victims and Seoul agreed not to raise the issue again.
But the agreement — finalised by former South Korean President Park Geun-hye as the US sought to repair its key Asian allies’ relationship — angered some victims who described it as falling short of holding Japan responsible for wartime abuses.