NANJING — War crimes should never be forgotten, no matter how misleading may be their names. Asia's history includes “comfort stations,” places used during World War II by Japanese forces to provide sexual services to their soldiers, often by imprisoned women from other countries.
A recent controversy in this eastern Chinese city, infamous for the mass rape and murder of the Nanjing Massacre, has brought this particular chapter of the war back to light. On Nov. 6, China News reported that the Liji comfort station, which the Nanjing authorities promised last year to protect and turn into an historical archive gallery, had been abandoned over the past year, and had been filled up with piles of construction rubbish from nearby building sites.
Jing Shenghong, professor at the Nanjing Normal University and an expert on the history of the Nanjing Massacre lamented to the Modern Express Daily that “the public’s concept of preserving history isn’t strong enough. This comfort station is irrefutable evidence of Japan’s war crimes. We have been calling for these sites to be protected for more than 10 years.”
After such widespread criticism, officials have now vowed to revive the memorial project.
A memorial at Yanziji in Nanjing, for victims in Nanjing Massacre — Photo: èŒƒé€‚å®‰/GNUFDL
Most of the “comfort women’” were young girls or women forcibly taken away or enticed from their home with promises of work in factories, or as nurses or other types of work. Once recruited, they were incarcerated and forced into prostitution. Though there is controversy as to how many women were involved, there were at least some tens of thousands of Asian women lured into these military brothels in the Japanese-controlled territories from China, Korea, and Taiwan to Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam.
According to Jing’s investigation, there were more than 40 comfort stations in Nanjing alone during the Japanese occupation. Most of them have disappeared. No. 2 Liji Street, an L-shaped two-story building still in relatively good condition, was Asia’s biggest station, with a surface of 4,800 square meters. The women incarcerated here came mostly from Korea. In the same neighborhood, another station was mainly filled with Chinese women, while another contained Japanese women who were volunteers.
By 2003 the location of the Nanjing comfort station had been forgotten, so an elderly Korean woman, assisted by Chinese and Japanese researchers, was taken back to Liji Street to identify the comfort station. She says she was duped by the Japanese, and imprisoned there for three years.
Nanjing, former capital of the Nationalist Republic of China, was one of the Chinese cities that suffered most from the war atrocities carried out by Japanese forces. Following the capture of the city in December 1937, tens of thousands of Chinese women were raped — and according to most estimates, between 250,000 to 300,000 Chinese people were massacred within weeks, many buried alive in mass graves.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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