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'Comfort women' get memorial

By Chen Jia in San Francisco and Liu Yiyi in Glendale, California | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-31 11:22

'Comfort women' get memorial

Bok Dong Kim, a victim of Japanese military during WWII from South Korea, sits in the empty chair of the statue on the official unveiling ceremony in City of Glendale, California on Tuesday. The statue stands for the human rights of Asian comfort women who were sexually abused by Japanese soldiers in WWII. Liu Yiyi / China Daily

The West Coast unveiled its first public memorial to WWII-era "comfort women" in Glendale City, California on Tuesday.

The 1,100-pound statue of a woman in Korean dress sitting next to an empty chair has won high praise from both Korean Americans and Chinese Americans, who consider it a moving tribute to the tens of thousands of Asian women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the war.

"We received thousands of protest e-mails, but history cannot be denied. This is a testament to the history and to the will of Korean people," city councilwoman Laura Friedman said at the unveiling ceremony.

"We are proud to be the first city on the west coast to have the memorial. We care about the Korean population in the US," she said. "The comfort women were innocent victims of the war. The sexual abuse was horrible."

City officials rejected an unexpected request from the Japanese consulate general in Los Angeles days ago to not display the statue in a public park.

A similar onslaught from Japanese lobbyists trying to get a monument to the comfort women removed in New Jersey happened last year.

Peter Li, a professor emeritus at Rutgers University, said the recent actions by Japanese politicians reflect "a total rejection of any responsibility" by Tokyo for the establishment and administration of the comfort women system.

"This is morally abhorrent," he said, "the Japanese government should unambiguously assume responsibility and admit their wrong doing."

There is no governmental legislation which officially apologizes for the enslavement of the "comfort women" or official governmental compensation for the victims, he said.

The Japanese are good at expressing their "regrets" for the suffering that occurred, but they do not assume the responsibility, which is rightfully theirs, he added.

On Tuesday, three Chinese women in their 80s joined with 174 local supporters in Osaka to request disciplinary action against Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, whose recent remarks on "comfort women" seriously damaged their sense of dignity and caused them mental anguish, said a report in the Xinhua News Agency.

A surviving Chinese "comfort woman" abducted by the Japanese military, 86-year-old Li Xiumei and two other women now live in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi.

The Chinese victims said this Japanese mayor, though born in peaceful times after the war, had hurt them with his insensitive message defending acts of aggression by the Japanese military during the war.

According to the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia, Japanese ultra-rightists voted down an official apology resolution in 1995 after then Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of the Socialist Party made a personal apology to WWII victims.

"What the Japanese military did in WWII also influenced Japanese American's human rights and freedoms in the US," said Kathy Masaoka, co-chair of the Japanese American organization Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress. "The Japanese government owes an apology to everyone who was a victim of what they did in the war."

The apology was very important as the victims would finally be able to heal their deep wounds, she said, adding that learning from the past was the only way to move forward.

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