SEOUL – The government of South Korea organized on Wednesday a series of events to pay tribute to comfort women amid escalating diplomatic and trade tensions with Japan.
This is the second time that Seoul has commemorated International Memorial Day for Comfort Women, a term for some 200,000 mostly Korean women who were forced to work in brothels for Japanese Imperial troops stationed mainly in China and on the Korean Peninsula from the 1930s until the end of World War II in 1945.
In 2018, the government designated the International Memorial Day for Comfort Women, which falls on Aug. 14, as a national day.
The main ceremony was held at the Kim Koo Museum and Library in Seoul and was attended by around 300 people, including government representatives and former “sex slaves,” as Seoul calls them.
Various symposiums, exhibitions and rallies are also being held, both in the capital and the rest of the country, and a new statue symbolizing the women will be inaugurated in Seoul’s Namsan Park.
In Nov. 2018, the South Korean government dissolved a foundation established in 2015 under an agreement between Tokyo and the previous conservative government in Seoul to put an end to the controversial topic, a frequent source of diplomatic tension.
Japan believed the matter settled with that pact, which included over $8 million as compensation for the victims, but Seoul says that the agreement failed to take into account the views of those affected.
The problem was exacerbated further after a series of rulings by the South Korean Supreme Court at the end of 2018 that ordered Japanese companies with a presence in South Korea to pay compensation to Korean citizens (or their heirs) who were enslaved during World War II.
Japan responded to these rulings by imposing trade restrictions on South Korea, who in turn responded with similar measures.
The events in South Korea on Wednesday take place on the eve of Liberation Day, which marks the end of the Japanese colonial era (1910-1945) and for which mass demonstrations against the neighboring country for this latest series of disputes have been convened.
Meanwhile, Japan on Thursday will commemorate the 75th anniversary of its surrender at the end of the World War II and like every year, it will pay tribute to those killed in combat at a memorial in Tokyo, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Emperor Naruhito are expected to deliver addresses.