SEOUL/TAINAN, TAIWAN – A bronze statue symbolizing women forced to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese military was unveiled at a ceremony in the southern Taiwan city of Tainan on Tuesday, marking the first installation of such a memorial in the country.
Although the statue could cast a shadow over Japan-Taiwan ties, a Taiwanese government source said Taipei is in no way involved.
In Taiwan, 58 women have been recognized as being forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels and are euphemistically called “comfort women”. Of those, two are alive today.
The ceremony, attended by former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou of the opposition Kuomintang, was organized by a local group established to memorialize the history of comfort women.
In 1995, the Japanese government set up the Asian Women’s Fund and offered atonement money and a letter of apology from the prime minister to victims from South Korea, Taiwan and other nations.
The project continued until 2002 for Taiwanese victims, but many refused to accept payment on the grounds that the Japanese government’s legal responsibility remained unaddressed.
In South Korea on Tuesday, the government held an unveiling ceremony for a monument memorializing comfort women, as the nation observed its first official memorial day for forced wartime prostitutes.
The comfort women issue remains a source of tension between Seoul and Tokyo.
South Korea last year enacted a law designating Aug. 14 as a day to honor Korean comfort women, as on the same day in 1991 Kim Hak-soon became the first victim to give her testimony about the hardships the women faced.
“The comfort women issue is not just a historical problem between South Korea and Japan. But it is an issue of sexual abuse upon women during wartime and at the same time an issue of women’s rights,” President Moon Jae-in said in a speech at Tuesday’s ceremony, held at a national cemetery in Cheonan.
Moon added that the issue could only be settled when the entire world, including South Korea and Japan, reflects on past misdeeds.
“This can’t be solved by any diplomatic means between the two countries,” he said.
The Moon government, which came to power in May last year, has taken the position that a 2015 agreement under which the two countries said they had “finally and irreversibly” settled the dispute cannot put an end to the issue.
While calling for a sincere response from Japan, Seoul has become actively involved in the issue. On Friday, for example, it launched a research institute for studies on comfort women issues.
Tuesday’s first official memorial day was marked as the number of living comfort women in South Korea, as recognized by the government, has dwindled to 27.