A pair of new statues in South Korea of a man kneeling in front of a girl symbolizing 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 AP 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 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "The man could be Abe and also couldn't be Abe," said Kim, who will keep the statues at his garden.
"The man represents anyone in a position of responsibility who could sincerely apologize to the victims of sexual slavery, now or in the future," he continued. "It could even be the girl's father. ... That's why the statues were named 'Eternal Atonement.'" During a briefing in Tokyo, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it would be "unforgivable" under "international courtesy" if the statues' male figure did indeed represent Abe. The statues at Kim's garden also drew criticism among some South Koreans, who described them as tacky or excessively provocative. A rep for South Korea's Foreign Ministry acknowledged that countries should consider "international comity" in regard to foreign heads of state, but he didn't provide a clear answer when asked whether private citizens should be asked to follow such practices. (The AP has much more on the countries' dispute over sex slaves.)