Legacy of war in Asia

‘It is Japan-bashing’: Osaka may sever sister city ties with San Francisco over ‘comfort women’ statue

Conservatives in Japan insist Osaka’s mayor would be completely justified in cancelling the agreement if the authorities in San Francisco ignore Japan’s objections

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 10:23pm

The mayor of Osaka has warned he will cancel the sister city alliance with San Francisco if the municipal government goes ahead with a plan to integrate a plot of land where a memorial to wartime sex slaves was recently established in a city park.

Hirofumi Yoshimura, the conservative mayor of Japan’s second city, expressed his anger at what he said were moves to further legitimise the “comfort women” statue, which was erected by a private group of Chinese-Americans and their supporters on September 22.

Yoshimura said the statue and proposals to incorporate the surrounding area into a city park amount to “Japan-bashing”, the Asahi newspaper reported.

That is against the standpoint of the Japanese government. It is Japan-bashing and a one-sided view
Hirofumi Yoshimura, Osaka mayor

Yoshimura and his predecessor as mayor, Toru Hashimoto, have written five letters to the government of San Francisco to state their objections to the statue. Yoshimura said he intends to write another letter to express his disappointment in the city’s failure to respect Japan’s views on the issue.

He is particularly opposed to the inscription on the memorial, which states hundreds of thousands of women were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military before and during the second world war.

“That is against the standpoint of the Japanese government,” Yoshimura said. “It is Japan-bashing and a one-sided view.”

Conservatives in Japan insist the mayor would be completely justified in cancelling the sister city agreement if the authorities in San Francisco ignore Japan’s objections.

“Ideally, it would be best if the two sides could hold discussions, the Osaka side could put its position across and an understanding could be reached,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University.

“Unfortunately, it seems that San Francisco has ignored pervious approaches and permitted this to go ahead, so I would say that a temporary shut down is inevitable. After that, we shall have to see what their reaction is.”

Shimada also said it is not inconceivable the Chinese government is encouraging efforts to demonise Japan as part of a broader campaign to damage Tokyo’s reputation on the international stage and weaken its security alliances.

“This Chinese group in San Francisco has been vigorously working to have this statue set up, possibly as a sign of their anger at the government of Park Geun-hye in South Korea signing an agreement that settled the issue of the comfort women between Japan and South Korea,” he said.

“China is looking to reinvigorate this issue and, if possible, drive a wedge between Japan, South Korea on security issues in northeast Asia. Beijing does not like it that the three nations are working closely together on the North Korea situation and want to weaken that alliance.”

Osaka and San Francisco first established sister city ties in October 1957 and officials from California are due to travel to Japan next month to mark the 60th anniversary of the relationship.

But the Osaka mayor may use the occasion to sever those ties.

“If San Francisco accepts [the statue] at the municipal government level, then cannot shake hands with them and smile,” he said.