Seoul to build museum for comfort women

Gender Equality Minister Chung Hyun Back (right) and survivor Lee Yong Soo (third from left) viewing an exhibit on comfort women at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul yesterday. A screen grab from rare footage unearthed last
Gender Equality Minister Chung Hyun Back (right) and survivor Lee Yong Soo (third from left) viewing an exhibit on comfort women at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul yesterday.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Gender Equality Minister Chung Hyun Back (right) and survivor Lee Yong Soo (third from left) viewing an exhibit on comfort women at the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in Seoul yesterday. A screen grab from rare footage unearthed last
A screen grab from rare footage unearthed last week showing comfort women lining up in front of soldiers during World War II in Songshan, China.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Move to commemorate victims likely to worsen ties with Japan

SEOUL • South Korea intends to build a museum in memory of wartime sex slaves for Japanese troops, a government minister said yesterday, re-igniting perennial tensions in the two neighbours' relationship.

The plight of the so-called "comfort women" who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II is a hugely emotional issue that has marred ties between the US allies for decades.

Mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women - mostly from Korea but also other parts of Asia including China - were forced to work at Japanese army brothels across the region during the 1939 to 1945 conflict.

"We are planning to build a comfort women museum in Seoul," said new Gender Equality Minister Chung Hyun Back at a shelter for a shrinking number of survivors, who now number only 38 in total.

The shelter, called "House of Sharing", is in a rural area south of Seoul and has a memorial hall, but Professor Chung said the country needed a museum in the capital with better public access. She did not elaborate on when it will open or what kind of materials it will display.

The museum is likely to worsen the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo, two US allies whose cooperation Washington needs as President Donald Trump seeks to address the threat from nuclear- armed Pyongyang. Japan maintains that there is a lack of documentary proof that the women were forcibly made to work at the brothels.

In late 2015, under now-ousted president Park Geun Hye, Seoul and Tokyo reached what they described as a "final and irreversible" agreement under which Japan offered an apology and a one billion yen (S$12.1 million) payment to South Korean survivors.

Critics of the accord, including some survivors, say the deal did not go far enough in holding Japan legally responsible for wartime abuses during its 1910 to 1945 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula.

Tension escalated further after South Korean activists refused to remove a statue of a girl erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to symbolise the victims of sex slavery. Tokyo has pressed Seoul to remove it, but activists have since put up more statues - including one outside the Japanese consulate in Busan. Tokyo recalled its ambassador in protest in January, and he did not return for three months.

South Korea's new President, Mr Moon Jae In, has repeatedly voiced criticism of the 2015 deal, suggesting a potential push by Seoul to renegotiate it.

Yesterday's comments from Prof Chung came after South Korean researchers last week unearthed what they described as rare footage of the sex slaves during the war.

The women were not named, but some of them were identified as the same women featured in another rare photo showing Korean comfort women, according to researchers at the Seoul National University.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 11, 2017, with the headline 'Seoul to build museum for comfort women'. Print Edition | Subscribe