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Politics & Security

Berlin Extends Anti-Japan Comfort Women Display Despite Japan’s Appeal

The installation of the statue in Germany is not only incompatible with South Korea’s 2015 and earlier agreements with Japan, but it is an unduly one-sided, demeaning fabrication.

The Sankei Shimbun

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The comfort women statue erected by a Korean Council group on public land in the district of Mitte, Berlin.

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The Japanese government has protested a decision to extend the display of a so-called “comfort women” statue erected by a pro-Korean citizens group in September 2020, the Sankei Shimbun learned on September 5. The statue is situated in the local jurisdiction of Mitte, a district of the German capital of Berlin.

Shortly after the installation of the statue, the Mitte district government ordered the monument removed in response to protests from Japan. However, when a pro-Korean group waged a campaign to keep it, the local government rescinded the order. 

Earlier, it had been decided that the statue would come down by September 2021. The Japanese government continues to press for removal of the monument as quickly as possible, but the prospects appear poor for materializing its removal in the near future.

The comfort women statue was erected on public land in the Mitte district on September 25, 2020, with a South Korean citizens group called the Korea Council playing the central role. The Japanese government then took a series of actions, including requests for cooperation made by Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi to his German counterpart Heiko Maas. As a result, the Mitte district issued an order for the statue’s removal in October 2020. 

But South Koreans and others in Germany then engaged in a fierce protest campaign against the order, garnering support from leftist party members in the district assembly and leading the district government to reverse its decision.

In addition, although the district government had initially limited its permission for the installation of the statue to one year, the district assembly adopted a resolution by majority vote calling for its permanent display, opening up the possibility the statue could be kept on display indefinitely. 

The inscription on the statue’s pedestal says in part that Japanese troops forcibly took away countless girls and women in the Asia-Pacific Region during World War II, and forced them to be sex slaves. The Mitte district assembly’s resolution, for its part, cited a 1993 statement by then- Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that acknowledged a study had found instances where Japanese military administrators were at times involved in the coercive recruitment of women. 

In August this year, the Mitte district decided to extend authorization for the display for up to one year. In response, the Japanese government filed a protest with German officials including the ward, saying that the extension decision was excessively one-sided. Since the Mitte district government has fallen short of saying it will permit the statue’s permanent installation, it is possible that the efforts of the Japanese side have had an effect.

An agreement reached in 2015 between the Japanese and South Korean governments on the comfort women issue confirmed that “this issue is resolved finally and irreversibly,” promising that both sides “will refrain from accusing or criticizing each other regarding this issue in the international community, including at the United Nations.” 

The installation of a comfort women statue in a third country, that is the act of fabricating history and unduly demeaning Japan, is incompatible with the Japan-South Korea agreement. As a senior Japanese government official put it, Japan is determined to continue pressing for early removal of the statue, and “has no intention to wait as long as a year.”

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(Read the Sankei Shimbun report in Japanese at this link.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun