Kneeling man’s statue stirs controversy in Seoul, Tokyo

29 Juillet, 2020, 16:09 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • The statue depicting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reportedly commissioned by a privately-run botanic garden in Pyeongchang

"There are many statues of the little girl (representing comfort women), but I wanted to create a statue of a responsible person apologizing", Kim Chang-ryul, the head of the garden, told The Asahi Shimbun.

Angered by the statue, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday said if the reports are true, it is "unacceptable in terms of worldwide courtesy" and would have a "decisive effect" on the relationship between the two neighboring countries.

A pair of statues titled "A Heartfelt Apology", representing wartime "comfort women" and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, are on display at Korea Botanic Garden in Pyeongchang in South Korea.

Since his inauguration in 2012, Abe has stoked anger among South Koreans over his nationalistic stance on Japan's wartime past and his demands that South Korea remove similar statues symbolising sexual slavery victims in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and other sites.

A photo released by the Korea Botanic Garden shows a pair of statues on a green lawn.

News of the statues generated a mixed response in South Korea. Kim In-chul, spokesman of the Foreign Ministry, said in a press briefing Tuesday on Suga's remarks, "As the Japanese side said, there is a need for worldwide comity", referring to the legally nonbinding diplomatic practice of courtesy.

South Korea's private botanic garden in the rural Pyeongchang county displayed statues that appears to depict Japan's PM Abe, kneeling and bowing to a seated "comfort woman", a euphemism for women forced to work in Japan's wartime brothels.

However, the official said it "acknowledges the need to consider worldwide courtesy concerning foreign leaders".

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Suga added that the Japanese government has not confirmed the authenticity of the reports.

Asked if the government could take measures on works installed privately, Kim said the government would review the law.

The garden operator has canceled a plan for an unveiling ceremony for the 4-year-old statues as the controversy arose.

He says the kneeling figure could depict anyone; It's not necessarily Abe.

Under South Korea's previous conservative government, the countries attempted to settle the dispute over sexual slavery in a 2015 agreement for Tokyo to provide 1 billion yen ($9 million) to a Seoul-based foundation to help support victims.

"The man could be Abe and also couldn't be Abe", said Kim, who will continue to keep the statue at his garden.

The issue of "comfort women" has always been a thorn in ties between South Korea and Japan.

The liberal government of current South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office in 2017, took steps to dissolve the foundation, saying that the deal lacked legitimacy because officials failed to properly communicate with victims before reaching it. The two countries have faced deteriorated bilateral ties over historical issues, including compensation of forced labor victims, and Japan's export restrictions on Korea.

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