Taiwan still pushing Japan on 'comfort women' issue: MOFA

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'Comfort Women' statue in Tainan (Photo by CNA)

'Comfort Women' statue in Tainan (Photo by CNA)

Taiwan is still pushing Japan to face the "comfort women" issue, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) said Wednesday, although it said that the unveiling of the country's first "comfort women" statue in Tainan a day earlier has nothing to do with the government.

A bronze statue symbolizing women forced to work in wartime brothels for the Japanese military was unveiled in the southern city, the first such memorial erected in the country.

Former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the main opposition Kuomintang (KMT), attended the unveiling and made an address, calling on the Japanese government to apologize and compensate the brutalized "comfort women." He also criticized the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration of being too soft on the issue.

The Tainan City government said the statue was jointly erected by a local nongovernmental organization and the opposition KMT.

Asked to comment, MOFA spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said the government's stance on the issue remains unchanged.

"We have continued to engage in talks with our Japanese counterparts on the issue," Lee said. He noted, however, that the "comfort women" statue in Tainan was erected by local civic groups and has nothing to do with the government.

Commenting on the issue, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga described the move as "extremely regrettable." He said he has asked the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association (JTEA) to express its concern to Taiwan. JTEA represents Japan's interests in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic ties.

Meanwhile, JTEA reiterated its government's regret over the statue, saying that the installation and display of "comfort women" statues around the world runs against the Japanese government's position and its efforts in facing the issue.

In 1995, the Japanese government set up the Asian Women's Fund and offered atonement money and a letter of apology from the prime minister to the victims, according to JTEA.

The apology JTEA refers to was made in 2001 by then-Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

In an open letter issued to the "comfort women," Koizumi was quoted as saying: "As prime minister of Japan, I thus extend anew my most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."

Despite the establishment of Asian Women's Fund, many of the former sex slaves refused to accept the money, including many of those from Taiwan, on the grounds that the Japanese government's legal responsibility remains unaddressed.

According to the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation, over 2,000 Taiwanese women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese Imperial Army around the time of World War II, according to the foundation. Today, only two publicly identified Taiwanese survivors are still alive.