Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Japan decries wartime sex slave statue likened to PM

Japan decries wartime sex slave statue likened to PM

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A statue showing a man bowing to a sitting woman is stirring controversy in Seoul and Tokyo for its potential to aggravate bilateral relations. Yonhap

Japan decries wartime sex slave statue likened to PM

A statue installed in a private garden in South Korea showing a man bowing to a sitting woman is stirring controversy both in Seoul and Tokyo, for its potential to further aggravate already fragile bilateral relations.

The installation work, entitled Eternal Atonement, has been erected on the grounds of the privately run Korea Botanic Garden in Pyeongchang city, Gangwon province.

The two-piece bronze sculpture features a man in a formal suit bowing on his knees in front of a seated woman.

The statue of the seated woman is in line with similar statues that symbolise Korea’s “comfort women”, a euphemism for girls and women used as sex slaves by Japan before and during World War II.

Local media linked the man in the artwork to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, even dubbing it the “Abe statue”, although the sculpture itself appears to bear no resemblance to the Japanese leader.

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 international courtesy” and would have a “decisive effect” on the relationship between the two neighbouring countries.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said if the reports are true, the statue is ‘unacceptable in terms of international courtesy’ and would have a ‘decisive effect’ on the relationship between the two neighbouring countries. JIJI PRESS/AFP

Seoul’s foreign ministry reacted cautiously, saying “international comity”, or courtesy, should be taken into account regarding the matter.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Kim In-chul told a regular briefing: “The government believes it is necessary to consider international comity in regards to foreign leaders.”

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

Stung by the controversy and reactions from Seoul and Tokyo officials, the head of the botanical garden, however, cancelled a scheduled ceremony for its formal opening.

He also rejected the media’s interpretations, saying the artwork was not installed specifically with the Japanese leader in mind, but could be any other man making an apology.

The sculptor behind the statue has said to media that he wanted to say with the artwork that Japan must atone for wartime atrocities until it is forgiven by Korea.

The statue received divided opinions among the public here, with some saying it’s a piece of art and freedom of expression should be respected, while others have raised concerns on insulting a foreign leader amid the ongoing bilateral spat.

Seoul and Tokyo have long locked horns over the comfort women issue, where Japan maintains the matter as “finally and irreversibly resolved” by a 2015 agreement reached between then-President Park Geun-hye and Abe.

But the current Moon Jae-in administration declared that the agreement – where Japan apologised to the survivors and provided one billion yen ($9.5 million) to a fund to help the victims, in return for Korea’s promise not to raise the issue again – is critically flawed and had failed to respect the victims.



  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Pursat Ford assembly plant opens

    The Kingdom’s first Ford assembly plant was inaugurated on June 16 in Pursat province amid rising demand for brand-new vehicles among Cambodians. The facility is seen as a game changer for the domestic automobile industry, which could bring a wave of investors seeking to cash

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Angkor photo rules clarified

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) denied that it had banned the use of camera tripods in the Angkor Archaeological Park, explaining that the confusion stemmed from a long-standing rule which required commercial photographers and videographers to apply for permission to film. The explanation followed a

  • $50B infrastructure plan en route

    The government’s upcoming $50 billion,10-year infrastructure master plan will provide tremendous investment opportunities for domestic and foreign entities, transport experts and economists say. Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol revealed the plan to Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami on June 15. At