U.S. Emerges as Central Stage in Asian Rivalry

SEOUL, South Korea — The political and historical war of words between Japan and South Korea has found another battleground: the United States.

One of the first volleys in the battle for America’s sympathies was played out in a park in New Jersey in 2010, where Korean-Americans in Palisades Park won the right to install a plaque memorializing “comfort women,” many of them Korean, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II. Since then, more Korean communities — sometimes backed by activists and even diplomats from South Korea — have begun their own campaigns either to acknowledge the suffering of the comfort women or, more recently, to win recognition for the country’s arguments that a nearby sea should not automatically be named after Japan, its onetime colonial ruler.

Legislators in Virginia passed a bill this month requiring books mentioning the Sea of Japan to also use its Korean name, the East Sea. New York is considering a similar measure. The ambassadors of South Korea and Japan visited the governor of Virginia in January to press their countries’ cases. Japan also hired four lobbyists to argue that the name change was unnecessary.

As the issues mount, the United States, which has labored to remain an impartial friend to both nations, has found itself in the middle of a fight between its two main Asian allies at a time when it wants their cooperation to face a resurgent China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.

“There is not one tenured professor on the East Coast who has not been contacted” by one or both of the countries, said Jonathan Berkshire Miller, chairman of the Japan-Korea Working Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Pacific Forum in Honolulu.

The Obama administration seemed to succeed in getting the two estranged allies to at least temper their bickering last week, arranging the first meeting between the Japanese leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea on the sidelines of an upcoming nuclear summit in the Netherlands.

But the slight thaw comes after months of some of the most bitter divisions between the two countries in years, brought on in part by Japan’s election of a prime minister South Korea considers to be a dangerous revisionist of his country’s wartime history and the election in South Korea of a president whom the Japanese see as stubbornly demanding endless apologies.

The conflict is rooted in grievances going back to Japan’s brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and its attempts to extinguish the Korean culture. Experts say this internationalization of what had been bilateral disputes reflects the shifting balance of power in a region where a wealthier South Korea is challenging Japan’s century-long dominance. At the same time, Japan is showing more willingness to push back under the leadership of Mr. Abe, who has argued in the past that Japan’s wartime history has been depicted too negatively.

“There’s propaganda to depict Japan in a way that’s far from the truth,” Mr. Abe told Parliament last month. “There is a danger that such propaganda will have a huge influence on our children’s generation. I want to think of a strong public relations counterstrategy going forward.”


The Koreans have gained the upper hand, experts say, partly by casting issues like the women forced into sexual servitude more broadly, as violations of universal standards of human rights. Koreans are planning a permanent exhibit on the comfort women that likens Japanese wartime actions to Nazi atrocities, at a Holocaust resource center at the Queensborough Community College in New York City.

South Korea recently sent its gender equality minister to Columbia University with an animated movie about Japanese war atrocities that shows a “comfort woman” in traditional Korean garb raped by Japanese soldiers.

Japan, meanwhile, has sent veteran America handlers to universities and research groups to warn that South Korea was out to settle old scores, and might be tilting dangerously toward China.

While Japan officially apologized in 1993, and set up a fund with private donations to compensate some of the 80,000 to 200,000 women believed to have been forced to work in wartime brothels, South Korean activists want a more repentant attitude. Tensions increased sharply last month when Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, responding to growing calls by nationalist lawmakers to scrap the apology, said the Abe government would review the testimony of women used in compiling it. Mr. Abe later said he would uphold the apology.

Experts say that each side has the same goal: cajoling Washington into pressuring the other to make concessions.

“The U.S. is the main battlefield in Japan’s global public relations warfare against South Korea and China,” said Hiroshi Nakanishi, a professor of international politics at Kyoto University. “They are trying to reduce Japan’s global influence, and the perception is that they are winning.”

Experts said they expected the campaigning to only intensify ahead of President Obama’s visit to Asia next month, which the Americans hope will help mend fences.

Instead, the visit itself has become a new cause of one-upmanship between the nations: when a draft itinerary showed Mr. Obama spending two nights in Tokyo with no stopover in Seoul, Korean officials said they successfully demanded that the time in Japan be reduced and a visit be added to Seoul to meet with President Park.

“We warned them that China is being very friendly toward Park Geun-hye,” said Han Suk-hee, an associate professor of international studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, who was part of a three-day mission to Washington last month to explain the grievances against Japan. “Korea believes we have the moral justification to ask the U.S. to change Japan’s stance.”

The campaigning in the United States had begun heating up last summer, when Korean-American groups persuaded the city of Glendale, Calif., near Los Angeles, to build a bronze statue of a “comfort woman” similar to a statue activists erected on a sidewalk outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Alarmed, Japanese right-wing politicians visited to press for removal of the statue, which the city has refused to do.

Activists in South Korea fought back by supporting Korean-American groups with historical literature and other evidence, including a visit by an 87-year-old comfort woman to the city for the statue’s unveiling. Japanese and Korean officials said the campaigns were independent and were not financed by their governments.

Still, South Korea’s Parliament voted this year to provide about $100,000 to help comfort women activists pay for travel, printing photographs and booklets and other activities abroad.

South Korean officials have also increasingly taken a public role in supporting the “comfort women’s” cause. That included the visit this month to New York by the gender equality minister, Cho Yoon-sun, who said she had also traveled to Europe to raise awareness of her nation’s position.

“The comfort women issue is still not as widely known to the ordinary public in the world as the German Holocaust,” Ms. Cho said. “We have to continue our efforts to make this known, and persuade Japanese political leaders to change their unforgivable attitude.”

By NY Times


My name is Kim, Bok-soon, Part2

Background Info:

The dance performance, “My name is Kim, Bok-soon”, is based on the music, “Arirang”, registered as UNESCO World Heritage culture in 2012.

The performance depicts the pain and sorrow of a comfort woman whose life was taken unexpected turn when she was forced to live as a sex slave under the Japanese Army during the World War2.

The performance wants to show there has been a dream and happiness once, and still, after all atrocious event, the life of Kim,Bok-soon should be acknowledged with warm applause..and hopes the justice is on the way to amend her heart..

My name is Kim, Bok-soon, Part1

Dance Performance, a tribute to the comfort women…


My name is Kim, Bok-soon.
I am sixteen years old..I am a happy child with an aspiring dream..
Love is there, too.
However, everything is taken away like a storm..
Dream, love, friends, my family…everything has gone..

After all indescribable hardship, no one greets me at home..
Everything has changed, including myself..
Take all things happened as a part of life,since the incessant sorrow is the burden I have to live with..I would and I will…

Then, I realize the dream of a sixteen year girl has still alive inside me..
The time when I was happiness, dream and love itself..
It is not over yet..
That time has come upon me again with a smile, telling me,
“You’ve been a good girl.”

U.S. envoy denounces Japan’s wartime sex slavery as ‘grave human rights violation’

The U.S. ambassador to Seoul said Thursday Japan’s sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II is “a grave human rights violation,” expressing hope for Tokyo to take steps to ease the pains of victims.

Sung Kim made the remarks at a forum hosted by the Kwanhun Club, a senior journalists’ association, in Seoul, echoing Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s criticism the previous day in Geneva of Japan’s attempts to deny its wartime atrocities.

“Yes, I agree (with Yun),” Kim said. “The comfort women issue, or the sex slavery issue, is a grave human rights violation.”

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Japan ruled the Korean Peninsula as a colony from 1910-45.

Tokyo, however, has been trying to whitewash its history of the sexual atrocities, with the Shinzo Abe government vowing to re-examine a 1993 statement where the country acknowledged and apologized for its war crimes.

Stressing his own and his country’s understanding of “the pains of the surviving women,” the U.S. diplomat said, “We very much hope that the Japanese leadership addresses this important issue in a way that eases the pain of the victims.”

The soured Seoul-Tokyo relations “are not only bad for the two countries but harm the U.S. interests and the peace and stability of the whole region,” Kim said.

While guarding against any “mediating role” by the U.S., he said Washington can “encourage the leadership of the two countries to address the issue in a way that satisfies concerns and eases pain.”

“We very much hope that we can see some positive momentum in the relations between South Korea and Japan.”

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun delivered a tough message to Japan in his speech at the 25th regular session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying Japan has shown an attitude of “affronting humanity and disregarding the historical truth” and “challenging recommendations to Japan by U.N. mechanisms” by not repenting for its past behaviors.

Yun said taking the international stage to raise the comfort women issue was to raise awareness around the world and seek solutions to these “universal human rights issues.”

Asked about ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the U.S. diplomat said he believes that the six-party talks “are still a useful forum” and stressed Washington’s will to resume the stalled meeting.

The multilateral talks, which involve both Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, have been dormant since late 2008.

“The North Korean nuclear issue is still very much at the top of the foreign policy of the U.S.,” the ambassador said. “People often equate lack of progress with lack of interests in Washington. That’s not the case at all in this case.”

Pointing to current circumstances as a reason for its “prudent” approach, he said the U.S. “will continue to work very hard with South Korea and China to try to come up with the resumption of the talks” with a goal to make “a serious lasting progress” in the denuclearization matter.

Especially following the stunning execution of leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle and No. 2 man, Jang Song-thaek, political uncertainty and instability in the reclusive country have grown, according to watchers.

“Many questions and many answers exist about the situation in North Korea. This is why it is so critical, so important for us to continue to maintain the strongest possible deterrent capability so that we will be prepared for whatever happens in North Korea,” he said.

S. Korea takes ‘comfort women’ issue to U.N. forum

GENEVA–South Korea’s foreign minister for the first time has raised the dispute with Japan over “comfort women” at a United Nations forum, calling the wartime system of sexual enslavement a “universal human rights issue.”

In a keynote address at the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 5, Yun Byung-se also lambasted recent moves by political leaders in Japan who want to revise a landmark 1993 government statement of apology to former comfort women.

Japan’s attitude “is an affront to humanity and disregards the historical truth,” he said.

The 1993 statement, issued in the name of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, acknowledged the involvement of the Imperial Japanese Army in the recruitment of women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese wartime troops.

Yun also criticized recent remarks by Yoshitaka Sakurada, the senior vice minister of education, who openly supported moves to review the 1993 apology.

According to the South Korean government, it was the first time for its foreign minister to raise the comfort women issue at the UNHRC.

Yun emphasized that the international community has been working hard to put an end to sexual violence in armed conflicts since the Rwanda genocide and the war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He said that “without repenting the past wrong-doings, a brighter future will not be secured.”

Yun also quoted from the testimony of a former Dutch comfort woman, emphasizing that it is not just a problem between South Korea and Japan.

He also demanded that the Japanese government take responsibility and educate current and future generations with regard to the comfort women issue.

Yun said that South Korea and Japan, which share the same values and interests, should be able to cooperate to secure peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

Wartime sex slaves urge Japan’s PM to drop plans to re-examine 1993 apology

Yi Ok-seon was a 15-year-old hotel employee in Ulsan, South Korea, when a Japanese official and a Korean accomplice came to put her to work in a military brothel in occupied north-west China.

For three years until the end of the second world war, Yi was forced to have sex with countless Japanese soldiers. Repeated injections of the syphilis treatment compound 606 left her unable to have children. “They dragged us [to the brothels] by force,” she said in the House of Sharing, a home for former sex slaves near South Korea’s capital, Seoul. “They beat us and swore at us. At the end of the war they abandoned us at the front to die.”

Yi, 87, is one of only a few dozen surviving “comfort women”, the name given to up to 200,000 women and girls, mostly from the Korean peninsula, who were forced to work in Japanese frontline brothels between 1932 and 1945.

For the past two decades, Japan has officially recognised its role in coercing the women into sexual slavery. But last week, the conservative administration of Shinzo Abe said it would re-examine an apology issued to former sex slaves in 1993 by the then chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono.

The findings could be reflected in a report Abe is expected to release next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war.

Japan’s resurgent right wing, with Abe at its apex, says there was no official involvement by the wartime Japanese government or military in rounding up women and forcing them into sexual slavery. Instead, it claims the women were willing prostitutes, hired by brokers who took advantage of wartime demand to make easy money.

“The testimonies of comfort women were taken on the understanding that they would take place behind closed doors,” the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said. “The government will consider whether there can be a revision.”

The statement is based in part on testimony from 16 women and expresses the government’s “sincere apologies and remorse” to the women. But their evidence, sceptics say, was never verified.

Fearing ostracism in their own countries, most of the women took their secret to the grave. Then in August 1991, Kim Hak-soon became the first to testify about her wartime forced prostitution experiences in public. “We must record these sins that were forced upon us,” she said.

For the women who spent their formative years serving soldiers in squalid conditions far from home, the Kono statement is a long-overdue expression of remorse that should remain untouched.

Abe’s attempts to recast Japan’s wartime conduct in a more favourable light have added to tensions over territorial disputes with South Korea and China, and caused concern in the US.

On Wednesday, the US assistant secretary of state, Daniel Russel, called on Japan and South Korea to show restraint over “difficult historical issues” such as comfort women for the sake of regional security. “There is an urgent need to show prudence and restraint in dealing with difficult historical issues,” Russel said in prepared testimony for a US Senate hearing. “It is important to handle them in a way that promotes healing. No one can afford to allow the burdens of history to prevent us from building a secure future.”

What Abe interprets as a legitimate campaign to vanquish postwar Japan’s collective “masochism” over its past, others see as an unsettling attempt to whitewash wartime atrocities.

“I am furious with Abe,” said Yu Hui-nam, a South Korean former comfort woman. “Revising the Kono statement would be shameful and absurd.”

Yu, who was 16 when she was taken to work in a brothel in the western Japanese city of Osaka, initially refused to return to her hometown in South Korea after the war. “I was ashamed and humiliated,” she said. Her relatives persuaded her to return, but she revealed the truth about her past only when other former comfort women started coming forward.

“We were snatched, like flowers that have been picked before they bloom,” Yu said. “They took everything away from us. When I think back I remember only tremendous pain. We were not living as human beings.”

It is not clear if the planned review will lead to a revision. Abe angered South Korea during his first term as prime minister from 2006-07 when he claimed there was no evidence Japan had coerced the women. But in a recent address to parliament, he conceded Japan had caused great pain in Asia and elsewhere in the past. His government would stick by past apologies and the door was open for dialogue with Beijing and Seoul, he added.

Yi and Yu refused compensation from the Asian Women’s Fund, which was set up in 1995 to provide 2m yen (£11,800) each to former sex slaves. The fund drew on private donations, but many women rejected any redress unless it came directly from the Japanese state. The fund was disbanded in 2007 after compensating only 60 of the 207 women the South Korean government had identified as victims.

After Japan’s defeat in 1945, Yi remained in China and married a Korean man she had met briefly during the war. They settled in Jilin province, but were separated after he was conscripted to fight in the Chinese civil war.

After returning to South Korea in 2000, Yi was taken in by the House of Sharing, where she lives with Yu and eight other women. “I don’t know what Abe thinks he knows about this issue,” she said. “It sounds like he is making excuses so that he doesn’t have to admit Japan’s guilt. It makes me furious when I hear him ignoring what I and other survivors have said.”

Yu, 84, refused to discuss her time as a sex slave for much of her life. “I couldn’t tell anyone, because I was ashamed,” she said. “I never felt joy or happiness, and now the Japanese government is stirring it up again. If [Japan] really is considering going back on its word, then it has no shame. We are human witnesses to the comfort women system. The Japanese should apologise properly to us before we die instead of trying to deny the facts. The world is watching them. We were taken away when we were just teenagers. Nothing can give us back our childhoods.”

By Justin McCurry, The Guardian