HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s government said Thursday there are no plans to remove a pair of statues depicting the Japanese wartime sex slaves known as the “comfort women” standing in front of the Japanese Consulate in the Chinese territory.
Activist Tsang Kin-shing said the bronze statues were a reminder to Japan of its culpability in forcing females recruited or captured from Japan, the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere to work in front-line brothels.
Reached by phone Thursday, a government spokesman said Hong Kong’s police have said the statues would not be removed. Tsang, a former member of Hong Kong’s legislative assembly, said he wants them to remain in place for the rest of the year.
Tsang said he understood the Japanese Consulate had asked the Chinese territory’s government to remove the statues. He said he’ll continue to press Japan for apologies and compensation.
Many Chinese nationalists say Japan has never fully repented for its brutal invasion of China and the accompanying atrocities, including forcing females into sexual slavery.
Similar displays have appeared in South Korea and other countries, but not in China, Tsang said.
“So this year, we asked people to make these two statues,” he said. “This is Chinese territory. Why should Japan care about this?”
The Japanese Consulate did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kim Do-hee, a 22-year-old South Korean student, said he was impressed by the unexpected interest in the comfort women issue in Hong Kong. The term comfort women is Japan’s euphemism for the victims.
Lingering resentment over the matter has long bedeviled relations between Seoul and Tokyo despite a landmark 2015 agreement to settle it through financing for South Korean support fund and efforts to resolve Japan’s grievance over comfort women statue in front of its embassy in Seoul.
“I used to think only Korea knows this and only we are upset about it,” Kim said. “I definitely believe this should be politicized globally.”
Estimates, at least by Japanese historians, of the number of comfort women range from 20,000 to 200,000. Initially, some were adult prostitutes or women from poor Japanese families, although later in the war, many non-Japanese, sometimes minors, were kidnapped or tricked into working in the brothels, some victims have said.
Japan issued an apology in 1993 over the issue and a government investigation concluded many females were taken against their will and “lived in misery under a coercive atmosphere.”
A quasi-governmental fund set up in 1995 paid nearly ¥5 billion ($44 million) to fund medical and welfare projects for more than 280 of the women, including 61 South Koreans.
Years of continuous pressure for sincere apologies have soured initial sympathy for the comfort women among many Japanese, who have grown weary of reminders of their country’s wartime past.