The Sankei Shimbun has learned that at the Japan-Germany summit meeting on April 28, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida asked Chancellor Olaf Scholz for help with removal of a statue in Berlin symbolizing the Korean comfort women.
Currently sitting on public land in the Mitte (central) district of Germany’s capital city, the local government has set a time limit of August 2022 for display of the comfort women installation. But the German-Korean civic group that installed the statue is lobbying for an extension or a permanent display.
The Japanese government hopes that appealing directly to Chancellor Scholz will facilitate an early resolution of the diplomatic problem.
“It is regrettable that the comfort women statue has remained on display,” Kishida told Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz when they met. He then explained, “The Japanese view on this historical issue is completely different,” and asked the German leader for cooperation in its removal.
False Statements Engraved on the Pedestal
It is unusual for a Japanese Prime Minister to become involved in direct requests on such matters as the removal of a statue. A Japanese government official expressed hope for a breakthrough in the situation, saying, "We have been pushing for the removal of the statue at various levels to no avail. However, if the prime minister delivers the message, it will send a strong signal.”
The comfort women statue was erected on public property in the Mitte district by a local German-Korean civic group called the Korea Council (Korea Verband) on September 25, 2020. Since its installation, the Japanese government has made requests for its removal, and the Mitte government issued an order for the statue’s removal the following month, in October 2020.
After a counter-campaign led by the Korea Council, the local government rescinded the order, and reset the period with a full one year extension, expiring in August of 2021. When that deadline came, another full year extension was granted. Now it is due to come down at the end of the summer of 2022.
The inscription on the pedestal of the statue contains untruthful statements, such as: “During World War II, the Japanese military forcibly took countless girls and women from the Asia-Pacific region and turned them into sex slaves.” The citizens’ group is continuing to lobby the Mitte District Council and others for the permanent installation of the statue.
Senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed concern, saying, “We can't allow such factually incorrect statements to remain. It may not be easy to remove the statue because of the citizens' group, but we will make an all-out effort to do so.”
Danger of Fake History Taking Root
If the statue in Germany, a major European country, is allowed to stay, it could spread the fabricated history written on it into the international community.
PM Kishida’s direct appeal to Chancellor Scholz for the removal of the statue shows the depth of concern about such danger, even while knowing the difficulty of removing a statue that is already installed.
Mr. Scholz’s response to Kishida’s appeal was far from positive. The Scholz administration emphasizes good relations with Japan, but says the statue is under the jurisdiction of the Mitte district, which leaves him little room to intervene.
In fact, the Mitte District Council is dominated by left-leaning forces such as the Green Party, who maintained their seats in the September 2021 local council elections. There is a strong tendency to emphasize human rights, which the Korea Council has used when lobbying for their position on extending exhibition of the statue.
Some members of the LDP expressed their frustration in private, saying, “The government should prevent the installation of such statues through intelligence gathering.”
However, activities of anti-Japan citizens’ organizations have become more stealthy in their behavior and are thus, more difficult to detect, according to a high ranking official of Japan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. It is hard to grasp the scale of such activities at the levels of cities and districts in every nation.
An International Vehicle of Hate
A government official says, “Until the comfort women issue is fundamentally resolved, the piecemeal ‘whack-a-mole’ approach will continue.”
The South Korean government and the civic groups in various countries officially deny there is a direct link between them. However, it is undeniable that Seoul has been using the comfort women issue for political purposes, and that this hostile stance has served as a political base for the civic groups’ anti-Japan activities in various countries.
On May 10, South Korea’s new president was inaugurated. This new administration has expressed interest in improving its relations with Japan. However, actions, more than mere words, are needed now to lead to friendship between the two countries.
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(Read the original parts of this article in Japanese here .)
Author: Kei Ishinabe, The Sankei Shimbun