Group pushes to erect statue honoring forced laborers near Japanese Embassy

By Kim Da-sol

Published : Aug 13, 2017 - 16:33
Updated : Aug 14, 2017 - 14:30

A South Korean civic group is pushing to erect a statue to honor forced laborers under Japan’s colonial rule of the country near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. 

Consisting of civic activists and descendants of the forced laborers, the group plans to hold a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, which is National Liberation Day, marking the 72th anniversary of South Korea’s independence from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonization.

An artist’s rendering of the statue “Unresolved Pain of Forced Labor” (Forced laborers association)

The statue is to be set up by October. It will stand next to the existing “Statue of a Girl of Peace” built to remember another wartime atrocity of Japan -- its trafficking of young Asian girls, mostly Koreans and Chinese, into sex slavery for its soldiers. 

Artist Kim Woon-sung who created the girl statue is to make the laborer statue, which is envisioned to be 4 meters wide and 3 meters tall, with a slate explaining the history of the forced laborers. 

The group also plans to install two more laborer statues -- one near the Japanese consulate in the southeastern port city of Busan and another near Gwangju Station in the southwestern city, as part of its plans to continue to pressure the Japanese government to offer an official apology and compensate Koreans for labor exploitation.

The plan, however, is likely to cause controversy, worsening already strained Seoul-Tokyo ties over the girl statues. 

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has expressed reservations about the group’s move to erect statues near the diplomatic missions, saying that such a move is “not desirable” in view of international courtesy and customs as well as for security issues. 

Japan has also raised strong objections and recently asked the Seoul government to take appropriate action. In April, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the civic group’s move a “big problem.”

The District Office of Jongno, where the Japanese Embassy is located, said it had not received any application with regard to the installation of the statue. The office said it will be against the law to set up the statue without the district office’s approval. 

On Saturday, two similar statues in commemoration of the forced laborers were set up, with one in front of Yongsan Station in Seoul and the other in the western city of Incheon. There is also another erected in the Japanese city of Tanba, northern Kyoto Prefecture, in 2016. 

The three statues were erected by the country’s two representative labor groups, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

In March, the government refused to allow the installation of the statue in Yongsan, citing the “inappropriateness of erecting the statue on state property.” That decision is being appealed and the statue currently remains intact. 

Yongsan Station is where the Japanese Army convened Koreans coerced into labor before sending them to regions in Japan, Sakhalin, Kuril Islands in Russia.

In Incheon, the statue “Hunch of Liberation,” a work by sculptor Cho Won-suk, was erected in a park, across from what used to be an arsenal belonging to the Japanese Imperial Army. It was modeled after Ji Young-rye, a survivor of forced work at an arms factory. Citizens donated 100 million won ($89,000) for the construction of the statue.

Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945 during which historians say millions of Koreans were coerced into labor. In Incheon alone, at least 151 Koreans were forced to work by the Japanese. 

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation