Japanese 'regret' at sex-slavery exhibit at French comic book festival
South Korean work at comic book festival highlights politically charged issue
Japan has expressed its "regret" at a South Korean exhibit at an international comic book festival in France featuring "comfort women" forced into wartime sex slavery in Japanese military brothels.
Japan's ambassador to France, Yoichi Suzuki, said he "deeply regrets that this exhibition is taking place", saying it promoted "a mistaken point of view that further complicates relations between South Korea and Japan".
Historians say that up to 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere were forced into brothels catering to the Japanese military in territories occupied by Japan during the second world war.
Angouleme International Comics Festiva director Franck Bondoux said Japan had not asked for the festival to be cancelled. "The subject was proposed by the South Korean government but the artists were completely free to evoke the subject independently," he said.
South Korea's Gender Equality and Family Minister Cho Yoon-sun was present at Thursday's opening of the exhibit, The Flower That Doesn't Wilt.
The politically charged issue has stoked regional tensions, with South Korea and China insisting that Japan must face up to its sexual enslavement of women from across occupied Asia.
In a landmark 1993 statement, then-chief Japanese cabinet secretary Yohei Kono apologised to former comfort women and acknowledged Japan's role in causing their suffering. But in remarks in 2007 that triggered a regionwide uproar, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - then in his first term as premier - said there was no evidence that Japan directly forced women to work as sex slaves.
Last week, the Japanese government distanced itself from remarks by the head of the NHK public broadcaster, who had said the Japanese army's system of sex slavery was commonplace "in all countries during war". Katsuto Momii later apologised for "causing trouble".
French regional newspaper Sud Ouest has received a petition from Japanese women indignant at the South Korean exhibit.
On top of the row, festival organisers shut the booth of a Japanese association that displayed revisionist second world war content and swastika images among the comics on display.