U.S. Experts Challenge Abe View of ‘Comfort Women’

Four U.S. experts have weighed in on the debate over whether erroneous reporting by the Asahi newspaper over “comfort women”–women forced to serve Japanese soldiers at wartime brothels–damaged Japan’s international reputation.

The experts said now-discredited testimony by a Japanese man named Seiji Yoshida, who said he had helped abduct Korean women for sexual slavery, didn’t influence U.S. views of the issue. In August, Asahi withdrew articles from the 1980s and 1990s that had cited the testimony.

The four experts–Dennis Halpin of John Hopkins University, Mindy Kotler of Asia Policy Point, Mike Mochizuki of George Washington University and Larry Niksch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies–were involved in drafting a 2007 resolution passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The resolution said Japan “should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”

Some politicians and conservative media outlets in Japan have said that if it weren’t for the Asahi’s mistaken reporting, international criticism of Tokyo over the comfort-women issue might have been less harsh. The 2007 resolution added to the political hardship of Shinzo Abe during his short-lived first term as prime minister.

Mr. Abe, who returned as prime minister in December 2012, said last week that he intended to uphold Tokyo’s past apology to victims of the military’s forced sexual service, but he repeated his recent criticism of Asahi’s reporting.

“It is true that erroneous reporting that Japan as a nation was involved in forced sex slavery has damaged our honor around the world,” Mr. Abe said at parliament Friday. “We need to continue stating facts persistently.”

The U.S. experts said the prime minister was overestimating Asahi’s role. A careful look at the facts, they said, “will refute the view of the Japanese history revisionists and the Abe Administration that the Yoshida memoir, as reported by the Asahi Shimbun, colored all understanding of the comfort women tragedy.” They added, “We are further troubled that the Abe Administration appears to adhere to this view.”

The experts’ statement was first published in the Nelson Report, a Washington newsletter on East Asian affairs. It focused on a Sept. 11 full-page article in the Mainichi Shimbun, another liberal-leaning Japanese daily. Mainichi said briefing materials prepared for members of Congress before the 2007 resolution cited the Yoshida memoir.

The U.S. experts said Mainichi interviewed them but didn’t reflect their view that the Yoshida memoir and Asahi’s reporting weren’t factors in the drafting or defense of the House resolution.

A Mainichi spokesman said the company planned more coverage of the topic. That coverage will reflect its reporters’ conversations with the Washington experts, he said.

By Wall Street Journal

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