Comfort Women Statue Incident Draws Protest in Taiwan
Protesters — mainly led by opposition Kuomintang (KMT) politicians and local women’s rights groups — demonstrated on Sept. 10, 2018, in Taipei after a Japanese national was caught on camera raising his foot to make contact with a bronze statue commemorating Taiwanese “comfort women.” A related incident later that day led to the arrest of several protesters after the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association (JTEA), Japan’s de facto embassy, was splattered with paint.
During the Second World War, Imperial Japanese soldiers forced women and girls in occupied (and colonized) areas into sexual slavery, usually centered around military brothels euphemistically termed “comfort stations.” In the aftermath of Japan’s defeat, issues over restitution for these victimized “comfort women” — a precise count of which is near impossible due to the destruction of records related to comfort stations — and a conclusive apology satisfactory to both Tokyo and its former imperial possessions has been a consistent sore point in East Asian international relations.
While South Korea, under previous President Park Geun-hye, reached an agreement to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the issue with Japan in December 2015, current South Korean President Moon Jae-in designated Aug. 14 this year as the first official memorial day for wartime “comfort women” and restated his position believing that the longstanding issues “cannot be resolved” by the 2015 agreement. Taiwan joined in on commemorations with demonstrators rallying in front of the JTEA to demand monetary compensation for Taiwanese comfort women and a formal apology from Tokyo. A bronze statue of a girl with arms raised in resistance — Taiwan’s first public memorial to comfort women — was unveiled in Tainan in a ceremony organized by local associations. The ceremony was attended by Taiwan’s former President Ma Ying-jeou and other KMT heavyweights.
In the evening of Sept. 9, 2018, Tainan City Councillor Hsieh Lung-chieh (KMT) posted a still image, taken from surveillance footage dated Sept. 6, of a man appearing to kick the bronze statue. The man was later identified as Mitsuhiko Fujii, a Japanese national representing 16 right-wing groups from Japan — including comfort women denial organizations. Hsieh wrote on his Facebook page that “the Japanese must admit to their mistakes,” called for Fujii to be barred from leaving Taiwan if no formal apology was given, and announced his intent to lead a demonstration in Taipei in front of Japan’s de facto embassy the following morning.
Roughly 100 demonstrators, led by Hsieh and other KMT councillors from Tainan City, gathered in front of the JTEA building on Sept. 10, where they were joined by members of the Tainan City Women’s Human Rights Equality Promotion Association under a strong police presence. Amid light scuffles with police and eggs being thrown at the Association building, protesters shouted slogans demanding an official apology over Fujii’s conduct and called for Taipei to lodge a formal protest with Tokyo over the matter. Half an hour later, letter from the KMT was reported to have been accepted by a representative of the JTEA.
Later that evening, members of the China Unification Promotion Party allegedly splashed the JTEA’s entrance with white and yellow paint to protest the “despicable way” the JTEA had handled the morning’s protest. Police arrested three men and one women — known vandals of historical structures dating back to the Japanese colonial period.
While the KMT has pressed the current government of Taiwan — led by President Tsai Ing-wen of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) — to demand an apology from Japan over the matter, Andrew Lee, spokesman for Taiwan’s foreign ministry, said Taipei’s stance on “seeking the rights and dignity of Taiwanese ‘comfort women’ remains unchanged” and reiterated the “continued efforts” being made in negotiations with Japan over the matter. Lee also confirmed that Fujii had already left the country and the ministry, along with police and immigration authorities, are considering barring Fujii from reentering Taiwan.
But Lee also added that the government hopes this issue “will not hinder Taiwan-Japan relations from moving forward.”