In Multipolarity

Japan to recall envoy from South Korea over ‘comfort women’ statue in Busan

By Kaori Kaneko and Tetsushi Kajimoto, Reuters, Friday, Jan 6, 2017

Statue in Busan, South Korea dedicated to women victims of WW2 Japan

TOKYO – Japan said on Friday it was temporarily recalling its ambassador to South Korea over a statue commemorating Korean women forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War Two which it said violated an agreement to resolve the issue.

The two nations agreed in 2015 that the issue of “comfort women”, which has long plagued ties between the two Asian neighbors, would be “finally and irreversibly resolved” if all conditions of the accord – which included a Japanese apology and a fund to help the victims – were met.

The statue, which depicts a young, barefoot woman sitting in a chair, was erected near the Japanese consulate in the southern South Korean city of Busan at the end of last year.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the statue was “extremely regrettable” and that Japan was temporarily recalling its ambassador.

Statue in Busan, South Korea dedicated to women victims of sexual violence by WW2 Japan (photo by Kyodo)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden touched on the issue in a phone conversation on Friday, the Foreign Ministry said. The United States, keen for improved ties between its two major Asian allies in the face of an assertive China and unpredictable North Korea, had welcomed the 2015 agreement. Biden told Abe that Washington strongly expected the two nations to carry out the agreement, which it supports, a ministry statement said. Abe agreed and said doing anything against the agreement was “not a constructive move”, the statement added.

Suga said Japan would postpone bilateral “high-level” economic dialogue and that it was suspending talks on a new currency swap arrangement with South Korea. “Without building relations of trust, it won’t stabilize,” Finance Minister Taro Aso reporters, referring to the currency swap arrangement.

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism for girls and women, from South Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere, forced to work in Japanese military brothels. South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims.

South Korea’s Finance Ministry on Friday expressed regret that talks on the currency swap agreement had been suspended due to political reasons.

Unending vigil for S. Koreans camped near sex-slave statue

By The Associated Press, Jan 18, 2017

Japan recalls envoy after South Korea puts ‘comfort woman’ statue outside consulate

Agence France-Presse, Jan 6, 2017

Japan has recalled its ambassador to South Korea in protest at the placing of a statue symbolising victims of Japanese wartime sex slavery outside its consulate. Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga announced the temporary move at a media conference along with additional measures that include postponing high-level economic discussions. “The Japanese government finds this situation extremely regrettable,” he said.

Besides the recall of ambassador Yasumasa Nagamine, Suga also said Japan was ordering home its consul-general in Busan – the city featuring the offending statue – and suspending discussions on a Japan-South Korea currency swap. “The Japanese government will continue to strongly urge the South Korean government as well as municipalities concerned to quickly remove the statue of the girl,” Suga said.

The statue was initially removed after being set up by South Korean activists in the southern port city. But local authorities changed track and allowed it after Japan’s hawkish defence minister offered prayers at a controversial war shrine in Tokyo last week.

Former sex slaves reject Japan and South Korea’s ‘comfort women’ accord

The Guardian, Jan 26, 2016

Two women who were forced to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military during the second world war have rejected the recent agreement between Japan and South Korea on the “comfort women” issue, saying it had made them “look like fools”. Lee Ok-sun, 88, and Kang Il-chul, 87, said during a visit to Tokyo on Tuesday that they had not been consulted, and called on the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to offer a face-to-face apology and provide official compensation.

“This deal has made us look like fools,” Kang told reporters. “It was agreed without consulting us. How could they have agreed on this and pushed us to one side? I’m furious.”

Last month, Japan and South Korea achieved an apparent breakthrough in the long-running dispute when Tokyo agreed to contribute 1bn yen to a South Korean fund set up to help survivors.

Abe offered an indirect apology “to all of the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incalculable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women”. Tokyo also acknowledged that its wartime military authorities had played a role in the women’s sexual enslavement, but avoided any admission of legal responsibility, describing the cash as a humanitarian gesture. In return, Seoul said it accepted the issue was resolved “finally and irreversibly”, adding that it would not raise it at the United Nations or in other international forums.

But the agreement has been criticised by surviving women and their supporters. “It is as if the Japanese government is waiting for us to stop speaking out and die,” Lee said on Tuesday.

Of the 238 South Korean women who were officially recognised as victims of wartime sexual slavery by the Japanese military, only 46 are still alive, with an average age of 89.

Kang was in her mid-teens when Japanese military police arrived at her home in South Korea and told her she was being conscripted during Japan’s 35-year colonisation of the Korean peninsula, which ended with its defeat in 1945. She was one of as many as 200,000 women, most of whom were Korean, who were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers in frontline brothels before and during the war.

Kang and Lee, who live with eight other survivors at the House of Sharing, a private facility near Seoul, have asked to speak to Abe in person. But the meeting is unlikely to happen. “Not only has Abe not apologised, but he hasn’t even tried to meet us,” Kang said. “Why doesn’t he come out and apologise? We want him to meet us face to face.”

Another potential sticking point to December’s landmark agreement is the fate of a statue of a girl representing comfort women that has stood outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul since late 2011.The South Korean government said it would try to persuade the private group that erected the statue to remove it, but insisted it had not offered any guarantees. Japanese media, however, quoted a government source as saying that Abe regards the removal of the statue as a condition for the provision of the funds.

The women’s rejection of the agreement came as former sex slaves from the Philippines called on the country’s president, Benigno Aquino, to raise their plight with the Japanese emperor and empress, who arrived in Manila on Tuesday for an official visit. “My message for our president is that the abuses against us must be addressed,” Narcisa Claveria, 85, told reporters, according to Kyodo News. “We have yet to receive real justice. We were so young, but a lot was already taken from us. We lost our dignity. We weren’t able to go to school. We suffered under the Japanese soldiers.”

Japan, however, has said it is not planning to reach comfort women agreements with any countries other than South Korea.

In 1993, Japan’s then chief cabinet secretary, Yōhei Kōno, acknowledged and apologised for the first time for Japan’s use of sex slaves. Japan, however, has refused to directly compensate the women, saying all claims were settled in a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties. It set up the privately run Asian Women’s Fund in 1995, but many surviving sex slaves refused money unless it came directly from the Japanese government. The fund was disbanded in 2007.

Kang, who was taken to China, where she lived until her return to South Korea in 2000, still bears the physical and emotional scars of her ordeal. “I was put in a tiny room and made to sleep with about 10 to 20 soldiers a day,” she told the Guardian in 2012. “I was punched and beaten so much that my body was covered in bruises. I still get headaches.”

Related news:
Filipino wartime rape victims push for compensation from Japan, The Guardian, Jan 6, 2016


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