This statue has tested diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan.
CNN  — 

In the busy South Korean port city of Busan, the young girl sits on a wooden chair, her fists balled in her lap.

She looks impassively forward, her expression unsmiling and determined. Her feet are bare, and on her shoulder sits a small bird.

This statue has sparked international incidents, threatened trade deals, and exposed deep and bitter rifts between Japan and South Korea that go back more than seven decades.

Diplomatic spat

The first iteration of the statue was unveiled in 2011, outside Japan’s embassy in Seoul, sparking objections and demands that it be removed from the Japanese.

In January, Tokyo recalled two top diplomats from South Korea after an identical statue was erected outside the country’s consulate in Busan, on the grounds that the action breached a 2015 agreement between the two countries intended to settle the “comfort women” issue.

Japan also halted talks on a planned currency swap and delayed high-level economic dialogue as part of an “initial” response to the statue, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

The statue was erected by a civil group in December to remember “comfort women,” women and girls forced to work as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Its inspiration, artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung told CNN, dates to previous Japanese criticism of a planned memorial.

Initially, they had intended to create a memorial stone for the 1000th Wednesday Demonstration – weekly protests that have been held by surviving “comfort women” outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul since 1992.

“But we heard that the Japanese government was against the memorial stone being built, and this offended us as artists,” Kim Seo-kyung said

The memorial stone plan was replaced by a “statue of peace,” the first of which was erected opposite the Seoul embassy, staring at its doors.

“If the Japanese government didn’t react so excessively, it would probably have just been a small memorial stone,” she said.

There are now dozens of the statues in Korea, and six in other countries, including the US, Canada and Australia, according to the artists.

former comfort woman recalls horrors pkg field wrn_00001027.jpg
Former 'comfort woman' recalls horrors
02:51 - Source: CNN

Wartime crimes

It’s not known exactly how many women served as so-called comfort women but the Japanese government disputes the previously reported number of 200,000.

The use of forced prostitution in Japanese-occupied parts of East Asia was first suggested in 1932 and revived in 1937 after the “Rape of Nanjing” – in which an estimated 300,000 people died during a weeks-long spree of mass killings, rape and looting in the Chinese city. Japan disputes the scale of the incident and the Chinese death toll.

“The rationale … was that such an institutionalized and, therefore, controlled prostitution service would reduce the number of rape reports in areas where the army was based,” according to a UN report on the issue.

To this end, the report said, the Japanese army began recruiting women, by deception, coercion and force, for its brothels.

“A large number of the women victims speak of violence used on family members who tried to prevent the abduction of their daughters and, in some cases, of being r