TOKYO, July 15 (UPI) -- Japan recalled its ambassador to China Sunday amid controversy over disputed islands and renewed friction over World War II sex slavery, officials said.
Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said the ambassador was brought back to Tokyo temporarily to discuss how to prevent damaging relations with China over competing claims to a group of islands in the East China Sea, The New York Times reported.
Japan has announced plans to buy and nationalize the islands from a private Japanese citizen, but Chinese officials argue Japan used victory in a 19th-century battle to illegally seize the islands.
China last week sent patrol ships into the rich fishing waters around the uninhabited islands, which could be sitting near undersea oil and natural gas deposits. Taiwan has also laid claim to the islands.
Meanwhile, Japan is facing renewed criticism concerning Asian and Dutch women forced to service Japanese World War II soldiers in brothels after Japan's consul general in New York tried to have a monument to the women removed from a park in New Jersey, the Times reported.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said the women willingly worked as prostitutes, many of whom were Koreans, the Times said. Many of the former Korean sex slaves still hold vigils in front of the Japanese Embassy, demanding an apology and compensation.