A California Congressman has waded into a months-long controversy over a statue the city of Glendale installed to honor Korean comfort women forced to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II.

A vocal contingent of Japanese in the US and abroad say that Japan has been unfairly vilified, with some denying the plight of the women from Korea and other Asian countries as they call for the monument’s removal. A petition to the White House has generated more than 126,000 signatures.

But Rep. Adam Schiff, whose district includes Glendale, said such protests threaten to destabilize relations between Japan and its neighbors. And that, he said, is a matter of international security for the US.

“It’s very important for Japan to work well with South Korea and with the Philippines and other nations, particularly in light of some of the Chinese expansionist moves in that part of the world,” said Schiff, D-Burbank.

Schiff on Wednesday called on Secretary of State John Kerry to confront the Japanese government about crimes against the comfort women in a letter he co-wrote with New Jersey Congressmen Bill Pascrell and Scott Garrett. Both also represent districts that have seen flareups over memorials to comfort women.

“With the remaining survivors now well into their eighties, these women deserve to hear a formal apology from the Japanese government nearly 70 years after the end of the war,” the representatives wrote.

The letter comes about a half-year after the city of Glendale in July unveiled its monument — a young girl wearing traditional Korean clothes, and sitting next to an empty chair. It was donated by the Korean American Sister City Assn.

In the months since, three delegations of Japanese politicians have visited the city, making their case for the monument’s removal. They’ve challenged estimates that as many as 200,000 women throughout Asia – most of them from Korea – worked as comfort women in brothels serving Japanese soldiers.

Retired Japanese banker and Los Angeles resident Tomoyuki Sumori is among those fighting the memorial. He told PRI’s The World: “This is not the right place for them to wage this kind of anti-Japan propaganda. Why do they do it in another country?’

Other Japanese-Americans such as Harold Kameya, however, support the memorial. He’s president of the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Citizens League, which earlier this month passed a resolution expressing support for the Glendale statue.  Another Japanese-American organization, Nikkei Civil Rights and Redress, is also in support.

“It’s a civil rights issue,” said Kameya, a retired engineer. “It was important for us, especially as people of Japanese heritage, and as American citizens.”

By Josie Huang

89.3 Southern California Public Radio