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Japan's resistance to facing up to the facts of history persists

China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-02-28 12:15

Perceptions of World War II in the Asia Pacific theatre, for many, equates to genocides, atrocities and crimes Japanese soldiers committed against civilians of neighboring Asian countries, particularly China and Korea.

The collective memory of Chinese and Koreans related to that particular period of history remains a deep scar running down through generations. I can't believe that there are still a handful of Japanese right-wing extremists who habitually deny history, consistently mount offensives worldwide and ultimately try to foil any effort to spread the truth about WWII and honor its victims.

On Saturday, a local committee seeking to erect a comfort woman's statue in April in Atlanta, Georgia, said the Japanese government had sent diplomats to meet with local heavyweights in order to squelch the plan.

At a press conference, the committee said the statue, to be installed at the Center for Civil and Human Rights Museum, is to symbolize Korean victims of wartime sexual slavery.

Japanese Consul General in Atlanta Takashi Shinozuka was reported to have conducted intensive lobbying in local political and business circles after the committee announced its initiative in early February.

He threatened the economic fallout that would take place, citing the many Japanese companies now operating in Atlanta that would ditch the city if the statue were erected.

Korean-American Kim Baek-Kyu, leader of the 25-member committee, said she would push ahead with the statue installation and categorically rejected Japan's warning, saying there was no link between the statue and economic impact. She called it "fabricated."

Atlanta is not the only place where the Japanese government has tried to block memorials or monuments that showcase its war-related atrocities and crimes.

In early February in San Francisco, the municipal government announced that it expected to receive in March a "comfort women" memorial as a gift from an activist group. It's the first-ever memorial to "comfort women" in a major US city.

The statue, which depicts a trio of women with linked hands as a fourth woman looks on, is expected to be installed at St. Mary's Square in Chinatown this year. San Francisco's city board of supervisors in 2015 unanimously approved the project, which was pushed through by retired San Francisco Superior Court judges Julie Tang and Lillian Sing.

The inscription on the statue reads, "This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls euphemistically called 'Comfort Women,' who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in 13 Asian-Pacific countries from 1931 to 1945.

"Most of these women died during their wartime captivity," the inscription continues. "This dark history was largely hidden for decades until the 1990s, when the survivors courageously broke their silence. They helped move the world to declare that sexual violence as a strategy of war is a crime against humanity for which governments must be held accountable."

Opposition from the Japanese government and members of the Japanese-American community in the Bay Area has been fierce, calling the memorial's message "divisive".

The Japanese right wing tried to kill the project from the beginning by lobbying the San Francisco government at every level. The most prominent objection was from Hirofumi Yoshimura, mayor of Osaka, a sister city of San Francisco, who called the installation "unprecedented".

But San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee pushed back, writing in a Feb 3 letter to Hirofumi: "San Francisco has many public and private memorials that commemorate some of history's darkest moments, as well as call for peace and reconciliation."

The memorial is important because Japan has never formally apologized for the suffering it inflicted on these women. The Atlanta organization stressed the significance of establishing the statue to promote both human rights and as a reminder to never repeat the unfortunate history between the two Asian countries.

"Truth and justice shall prevail," said Ding Yuan, executive vice-president of the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia, a Cupertino-based human rights organization established in 1994.

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