Reporter Journal / Chang Jun

It's official: San Francisco's 'Comfort Women' memorial triumphs

By Chang Jun (China Daily USA) Updated: 2017-11-28 11:25

Despite intense pressure from the mayor of Osaka and Japanese Prime Minister Abe, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee on Nov 22 signed a resolution unanimously passed by the board of supervisors to officially adopt the Comfort Women Memorial as city property.

Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura has openly threatened to sever his city's 60-year-old sister-city relationship with San Francisco, should it make the memorial an official part of the city. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined Yoshimura's plea to Lee to veto the resolution and reject the memorial.

The moment the statue was unveiled in late September at the St. Mary Square Annex in downtown San Francisco, Yoshimura pledged to end the sister-city relationship, which was adopted in 1957.

"Our relationship of trust was completely destroyed," Yoshimura said. "I will dissolve the sister-city relationship."

Japan's foreign ministry echoed the condemnation with a spokesman later saying the erection of the monument was "regrettable and incompatible with the position and efforts of the government of Japan."

Fury and denial from Japan's government and its right-wing extremists on the Comfort Women issue are no surprise, according to Ding Yuan, executive vice-president of the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia.

"There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to remember and honor the Comfort Women victims and all women and girls afflicted by sexual violence," he said.

According to historians, approximately 200,000 women in the Pacific theater during World War II were forced by the Japanese army to work in brothels as sex slaves, many from occupied countries including Korea, China and the Philippines.

The Comfort Woman issue was barely acknowledged in the West until several South Korean survivors of these brothels began to speak publicly in the 1990s, drawing public attention.

In August 2015, the Comfort Women Justice Coalition (CWJC) was established in San Francisco to educate the public about Japanese military sexual slavery and the human trafficking system while Japan engaged in its war of aggression.

CWJC's aim is to remember history, and help bring justice for the victims and eradicate sexual violence against women around the world, said co-chair Julie Tang, a retired judge in San Francisco.

In September 2015, they helped Grandma Yong-soo Lee, a Comfort Women survivor and activist in South Korea, come to San Francisco and testify before the board of supervisors in support of the resolution to establish a Comfort Women memorial in the city's public space and helped the project succeed.

Compared to their defiant mayor, Osaka citizens and more than 40 organizations have signed a petition to Mayor Lee, pleading with him to ensure the memorial is formally approved as a municipal monument.

The large-scale petition drive reflects the Japanese people's voices, asserting that the vehement opposition to the memorial represents only a minority view in Japan championed by far-right politicians and ultranationalists, and thanks San Francisco for erecting a memorial that stands for human rights, women and peace.

Lillian Sing, who co-chairs CWJC with Tang, said, "When we received hundreds of letters of support for the Comfort Women memorial from Japanese citizens of Osaka and beyond, we knew that the people of Japan disagree with their deluded leaders who think a $500 million public relations budget can trick the world into believing their lies. The more they try to deny and suppress the truth, the more our movement will grow."

On hearing the good news from San Francisco, grandma Yong-soo Lee said, "Thank you, Mayor Lee, for helping us achieve our goal. I will never forget all your efforts to remember our history. I want to give each one of you a big hug!"

Julie Tang said the Abe's policy of denial of the Comfort Women history and fake news has now been defeated.

"It's time for Abe and his cronies to own up to the truth and make a sincere and legal apology to all victims throughout the world," she said.

"Let the record stand that neither San Francisco's mayor nor board of supervisors nor its citizens will be bullied by the Japanese government when it comes to protecting all women from sexual violence," she said.

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