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HONG KONG – Hong Kong's government said Thursday there are no plans to remove a pair of statues depicting World War II Japanese army sex slaves known as "comfort women" that were erected in front of Japan's Consulate in the Chinese territory.
Activist Tsang Kin-shing said the bronze statues were a reminder to Japan of its culpability in forcing women recruited or captured from Japan, the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere to serve in front-line brothels.
Reached by phone Thursday, a government spokesman said Hong Kong's police have said the statues would not be removed. Tsang, a former member of Hong Kong's legislative assembly, said he wants them to remain in place for the rest of the year.
Tsang said he understood the Japanese Consulate had asked the Chinese territory's government to have the statues removed. He said he'll continue to press Japan for apologies and compensation.
Many Chinese nationalists say Japan has never fully repented for its brutal invasion of China and accompanying atrocities, including forcing women into sexual slavery.
Similar displays have been erected in South Korea and other countries, but not in China, Tsang said.
"So this year, we asked people to make these two statues," he said. "This is Chinese territory. Why should Japan care about this?"
The Japanese Consulate did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Kim Do-hee, a 22-year-old South Korean student, said he was impressed at the unexpected interest in the comfort women issue in Hong Kong.
Lingering resentment over the matter has long bedeviled relations between Seoul and Tokyo, despite a 2015 agreement to settle it through cash payments for victims and South Korea agreeing to try to resolve a Japanese grievance over a statue of a girl representing victims in front of its Seoul embassy.
"I used to think only Korea knows this and only we are upset about it," Kim said. "I definitely believe this should be politicized globally."
Estimates by Japanese historians of the number of comfort women range from 20,000 to 200,000. Initially, some were adult prostitutes or women from poor Japanese families, although later in the war, many non-Japanese, sometimes minors, were kidnapped or tricked into working in the brothels, some victims have said.
Japan issued an apology in 1993 over the issue and a government investigation concluded many women were taken against their will and "lived in misery under a coercive atmosphere."
A fund set up in 1995 paid nearly 5 billion yen ($44 million) for medical and welfare projects for more than 280 of the women, including 61 South Koreans.
Years of continuous pressure for apologies have soured initial sympathy for comfort women among many Japanese, who have grown weary of reminders of their country's wartime past.