WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (Yonhap) -- The State Department said Monday it is "not an uncommon practice" for diplomats to move in and out of a country after Japan recalled its ambassador from South Korea in anger over the installation of a statue symbolizing the country's wartime sexual slavery.
Historical tensions flared anew between Seoul and Tokyo over the Japanese defense minister's recent visit to a Tokyo war shrine seen as glorifying the country's militaristic past, and the establishment by civic activists of the girl's statue in front of Japan's consulate in the South Korean port city of Busan.
Japan has demanded the statue be removed, calling it a violation of the 2015 agreement that the two countries reached on resolving the sexual slavery issue. In protest, Tokyo has also recalled its ambassador and consul general from South Korea.
"We are aware of reports that the ambassadors were called. I think we would leave it to those two countries to speak to that decision," State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a regular briefing. "I mean, as you know, it's not an uncommon practice with respect to moving diplomats in and out."
The statue added to tensions sparked after Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine honoring Class-A war criminals. She was the first Japanese defense chief to pay homage to the shrine, which has been denounced as a symbol of Japan's militaristic past.
South Korea and China have slammed visits to the shrine as a sign Japan has not repented for its wartime past.