People in South Korea yesterday unveiled monuments and staged protests to mark Japan’s wartime use of “comfort women,” a euphemism for girls and women forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels.
In South Korea, a new monument was unveiled as part of its first Memorial Day for Japanese Forces’ Comfort Women Victims, which could exacerbate a sensitive diplomatic issue with Japan, South Korea’s neighbor and a key ally of the US in efforts to contain North Korea.
“My hope is that this issue will not lead to a diplomatic dispute between South Korea and Japan. I also do not think that this will be solved by a bilateral diplomatic solution,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said in commemoration of the day.
Moon said the issue involves “the entire world” and human rights of all women, pledging that the South Korean government would respect the women as the main parties of the issue and pursue commemorative projects to restore their honor and dignity, including the discovery, preservation and propagation of records.
Japan has said the issue was resolved by a 2015 deal, struck by a previous, conservative South Korean administration, under which Japan apologized to the victims and provided ￥1 billion (US$9.02 million) to a fund to support them.
However, Moon’s administration has spotlighted the emotionally charged issue and has called for Japan to do more, despite backing down in January from formally renegotiating the deal.
In March, Moon described Japan’s wartime use of comfort women as “crimes against humanity,” with Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga calling Moon’s remarks “extremely regrettable.”
Tokyo has protested over other monuments in South Korea dedicated to comfort women, including one in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, as well as the move late last year to establish a day to remember comfort women.
Aug. 14 was chosen because on Aug. 14, 1991, Kim Hak-sun became the first South Korean comfort woman victim to give a public testimony about her experience, the South Korean Ministry of Gender Equality and Family said.
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