Korean statues outrage Japan, reference historic sex-slavery

A pair of new statues in South Korea of a man kneeling in front of a girl symbolising a victim of sexual slavery by Japan’s wartime military is the latest subject of diplomatic sensitivity between the countries, with Tokyo’s government spokesperson questioning whether the male figure represents the Japanese prime minister.

Kim Chang-ryeol, owner of a botanic garden in the mountain town of Pyeongchang, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he canceled an unveiling ceremony for the bronze statues that was to take place on Aug. 10 because of what he described as unwanted controversy.

Kim said the statues were his idea, but that he didn’t specifically intend the male figure to be Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Since his inauguration in 2012, Abe has stoked anger among South Koreans over his nationalistic stance on Japan’s wartime past and his demands that South Korea remove similar statues symbolising sexual slavery victims in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and other sites.

But the statues at Kim’s garden also drew criticism among some South Koreans, who described them as tacky or excessively provocative on social media. Kim defended the statues, saying they reflect his wish for the countries to resolve their conflicts over history. He didn’t expect the statues to trigger political debates.

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