SYDNEY – The city council of Strathfield has turned down a proposal to build a statue in the city in a suburb of Sydney honoring “comfort women,” who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers at military brothels before and during World War II.
The plan to put up the first statue in Australia to symbolize comfort women, mostly brought from the Korean Peninsula but also from China and other areas under Japanese occupation, was jointly proposed by Korean and Chinese civic groups.
The council’s rejection of the proposal, by a unanimous vote at an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday, has made it difficult for the groups to erect similar statues in other parts of the country, people familiar with the matter said.
Residents of Korean and Chinese ancestry are influential in Strathfield, as they account for 20 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of the city’s population of nearly 40,000.
At the council meeting, all six members agreed not to allow the installation of the memorial, pointing out that the move could divide the city’s communities and that it is not consistent with the city’s memorial policy. The meeting was swamped by about 300 people amid heightened interest in the matter.
Besides South Korea, comfort women statues have been built in the United States.
But in Australia, public sentiment against construction of such monuments has grown due to a campaign by civic group called Japanese Women for Justice and Peace, which claims there is no consensus on the issue of comfort women and that erecting such statues will fuel racial discrimination.
In a related move on Tuesday, Osaka Municipal Government officials said they will ask San Francisco’s city council to examine a resolution that supports the establishment of a statue to honor comfort women.
Osaka City Hall will send a letter to the assembly of its U.S. sister city expressing concerns that erecting such a statue could negatively affect the city-to-city relationship as well as diplomatic ties between Japan and the United States.
The letter will be sent by Sept. 8, when the San Francisco council, known as the board of supervisors, is scheduled to start debate on the resolution, Osaka officials said Tuesday.
“It’s true that women’s human rights were abused during World War II, but it’s not fair to say only Japan did something special,” Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said at a news conference in July, when he indicated his plan to send such a letter to San Francisco.
According to the Osaka Municipal Government, the San Francisco city council will discuss a resolution that states an estimated 200,000 Asian and other women were forced to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military during the war.
In 2013, the outspoken Hashimoto said Japan’s wartime system of sexual servitude was “necessary to maintain discipline” in the Japanese military before and during World War II, sparking criticism at home and abroad. He later said he did not personally hold the view that those women were necessary but was only describing the situation during wartime.
The San Francisco council subsequently adopted a resolution condemning Hashimoto’s remarks. Hashimoto also canceled a planned visit to San Francisco after he received a letter from a senior San Francisco official that urged him to do so due to the furor caused by his comments.