Tag Archives: Shinzo Abe

China, Taiwan Apply Pressure to Japan Over ‘Comfort Women’ Issue


A Chinese girl from one of the Japanese Army’s “comfort battalions” sits on a stretcher, awaiting interrogation at a camp in RangoonA Chinese girl from one of the Japanese Army’s “comfort battalions” sits on a stretcher, awaiting interrogation at a camp in Rangoon

Image Credit: UK Imperial War Museums

On December 28, Japan and South Korea announced a landmark deal to resolve the issue of “comfort women,” the euphemism used for women forced to sexually service Imperial Japanese Army troops during World War II. The deal announced last Monday sees Shinzo Abe apologize, as Japan’s prime minister, for the women’s suffering. Japan’s government also pledged to provide 1 billion yen ($8.3 million) to a fund for the women, to be established by the South Korean government.

The “comfort women” issue, and the degree to which Japan’s government will (or won’t) accept responsibility for the forced recruitment of the women, has been a major flashpoint in Japan-South Korea relations. However, South Korea isn’t the only country from which “comfort women” were drawn, and the deal between South Korea and Japan has sparked mixed reactions from other states — most notably China and Taiwan.

China (along with South Korea) has been the most vocal in accusing Japan’ of “whitewashing” history. Unsurprisingly, then, Beijing adopted a cautious stance on the comfort women deal, insisting that it would have to “wait and see” whether Japan’s actions matched its words. When the deal was announced, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang spent more time highlighting the historical issue than addressing the deal. “The forced recruitment of the ‘comfort women’ is a grave crime against humanity committed by the Japanese militarism during the Second World War against people of Asian and other victimized countries,” Lu said, urging Japan to “face up to and reflect upon its history of aggression and properly deal with the relevant issue with a sense of responsibility.”

The general consensus in Chinese state media is that the comfort women deal does not go far enough. Xinhua in particular has repeatedly called Japan’s sincerity into question in its articles on the agreement (see here, here, and here for examples). In particular, Xinhua argued that by making a deal specifically with South Korea, Japan was not acknowledging the full extent of the “comfort women” issue. “Apart from Korean women, victims also include the women of China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries, who also deserve an apology and compensation,” one Xinhua editorial pointed out.

The last surviving member of a group of Chinese comfort woman seeking to sue the Japanese government passed away in November at the age of 89. Yet the issue continues to live on, with China’s first memorial to the comfort women opening in December in the city of Nanjing. Beijing also sought to have documents related to the comfort women issue inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, though that attempt was unsuccessful.

When asked if China would hold its own talks with Japan on the comfort women issue, Lu simply repeated China’s call for Japan “to face squarely and reflect upon its history of aggression and deal with the relevant issue in a responsible manner.” Though Chinese state media has called for Japan to apologize to and compensate comfort women of all nationalities, there’s no indication the that government is seriously negotiating on the issue with Japan.

By contrast, Taiwan is preparing to enter negotiations with Japan, seeking a deal similar to the one announced with South Korea. On December 29, President Ma Ying-jeou reiterated his government’s stance on the comfort women issue, saying, “The Republic of China government has always said that Japan should apologize to Taiwanese comfort women and offer compensation to them.” The same day, Foreign Minister David Lin said Taiwan would “continue negotiating with Japan to restore the dignity of Taiwan women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army.” He said Japan had agreed to adopt a “flexible” stance and conduct negotiations, which will start in January in Tokyo.

On Tuesday, a cross-agency working group (which including a comfort women advocacy group, the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation) met to hammer out a strategy for negotiations with Japan. According to Taiwan’s Central News Agency, Taipei will ask Tokyo to “issue a formal apology to Taiwanese comfort women, offer compensation to the surviving women, and restore their reputation.” Taiwan’s top representative in Japan, Shen Ssu-tsun, met on Monday with the head of Japan’s Interchange Association, which handles relations with Taiwan, to discuss the issue.

Charles Chen, a spokesperson for Taiwan’s Presidential Office, confirmed on Tuesday that Taiwan wants the same deal that Japan offered to South Korea. However, Taiwan was unnerved by comments from Japan’s chief cabinet secretary that Tokyo does not, in fact, intend to start a new round of negotiations with other countries based on the South Korea deal. Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan has dealt with the issue “in a sincere manner considering each circumstance” in different countries. He indicated that the situations in other countries were “different” from the one in South Korea, suggesting that Japan will not extend to same offer to other governments.

According to the Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, there were around 2,000 Taiwanese women forced into sexual slavery during World War II. Of the 58 who came forward to demand an apology and compensation from Japan, four are still alive.

By Shannon Tiezzi from The Diplomat


Third former ‘comfort woman’ dies this month

Kim Yeon-hee, one of the Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, passed away Wednesday night. She was 83.

Her death follows that of two other “comfort women,” as they are euphemistically known, who passed away two weeks ago.

According to the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, a civic organization supporting the victims, Kim died at about 10 p.m. at a hospital in Yongin, Gyeonggi.

She died of natural causes, the group said.

Kim was born in 1932 in Daegu, according to the organization, and moved to Seoul at age 5.

In 1944, just a year before Japanese colonial rule ended, Kim was forcibly brought to Japan by her elementary school’s principal, a Japanese national. She was in fifth grade at the time.

Kim was forced to work in a military brothel in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan for about seven months after working at a factory in the central Toyama Prefecture for about nine months.

After the peninsula was liberated in 1945, she returned to Korea where she received treatment at a mental facility due to the trauma she experienced in the brothel. She worked as a housekeeper and never married.

Kim is the third former comfort woman to die this month alone, which brings the total number of surviving Korean victims to 49. A total of 238 former sex slaves were officially registered with the government.

Kim Oi-hwan, the youngest of the survivors, and Kim Dal-seon passed away on June 11, dying within half an hour of each other.

The comfort women issue has long been a source of historical dispute between Korea and Japan, adding to tensions and straining relations. The Japanese government has yet to issue a formal apology to its victims.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Japan, so it is hoped that new developments may bring the issue closer to a resolution.

Earlier this month, President Park Geun-hye told the Washington Post that “considerable progress” had been made between Seoul and Tokyo in negotiations regarding an apology by Japan and reparations to the victims.

On Monday, President Park met Fukushiro Nukaga, who visited Korea as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s special envoy, at the Blue House, where he pledged to facilitate progress in ongoing negotiations for the issue.

NY Times: Shinzo Abe and Japan’s History

The visit by Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to the United States next week is important on several levels. He will be the first Japanese leader to address a joint meeting of Congress. He and President Obama are expected to announce progress on a key issue, increased defense cooperation, and possibly on a second, trade. They will also discuss a third challenge, China’s growing influence in Asia.

The context is also important: This year is the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, and to some extent the visit is intended as a celebration of the country’s remarkable postwar resurrection and its robust alliance with an old enemy, which has become a foundation of regional stability.

But the success of the visit also depends on whether and how honestly Mr. Abe confronts Japan’s wartime history, including its decision to wage war, its brutal occupation of China and Korea, its atrocities and its enslavement of thousands of women forced to work as sex slaves or “comfort women” in wartime brothels.

By now, that history should have been settled. That it is not settled is largely the fault of Mr. Abe and his right-wing political allies who keep questioning history and even trying to rewrite it, stoking regional tensions. Mr. Abe may have more to say on all this on Aug. 15, the actual date of the surrender. But his remarks to Congress will send an important signal.

Mr. Abe’s nationalist views and pressure from competing political forces have affected his judgment on these delicate issues. He has publicly expressed remorse for the war and said he will honor Japan’s past apologies for its aggression, including the sex slavery. Yet he has added vague qualifiers to his comments, creating suspicions that he doesn’t take the apologies seriously and will try to water them down.

His government has compounded the problem by trying to whitewash that history. This month, South Korea and China criticized efforts by Japan’s Education Ministry to force publishers of middle-school textbooks to recast descriptions of historical events — including the ownership of disputed islands and war crimes — to conform to the government’s official, less forthright analysis. And last year, the Abe government tried unsuccessfully to get the United Nations to revise a 1996 human rights report on the women Japan forced into sex slavery.

Many Japanese right-wingers believe their country was wrongly maligned by America and its allies after the war. Mr. Abe has given the impression that he believes Japan has already done enough to make amends for its militarism and atrocities. He says he prefers to get on with more firmly establishing his country as a 21st-century leader that can help the United States counter China in Asia and take on other global responsibilities.

But Japan cannot credibly fill that broader role if it seeks to repudiate criticism of its past. Emperor Akihito of Japan and his family have set a much better example; in an apparent rebuke of Mr. Abe, Crown Prince Naruhito has been outspoken about the need to “correctly pass down history” to future generations.

Much good can come from the Washington meeting if Mr. Abe and Mr. Obama give final approval to the first new guidelines in 17 years for expanded American-Japanese defense cooperation and make substantial progress on a new trans-Pacific trade agreement. A lot will depend on whether Mr. Abe is willing to push aside his right-wing supporters and set a tone that can strengthen stability in Asia, rather than weakening it.

Japanese historians contest textbook’s description of ‘comfort women

Washington Post

TOKYO — A group of Japanese historians and academics is urging McGraw-Hill, the American publisher, to “correct” a college textbook that they say contains “many erroneous expressions” about sex slaves used by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Saying that the women were simply prostitutes, the group is taking up an official Japanese effort to win support for its perspective on the euphemistically known “comfort women,” a particularly sensitive part of its wartime legacy.

“There are women in Amsterdam who sit in windows displaying their services and in Japan we have Soapland, which is part of the sex trade,” said Ikuhiko Hata, a Harvard- and Columbia-educated emeritus professor at Nippon University, likening the comfort women to those working in the red light districts in the Dutch and Japanese capitals.

Prostitutes have existed at every time in human history, so I do not believe that comfort women are a special category,” Hata told foreign journalists in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The issue of the comfort women is at the core of the political friction between Japan and the victims of its wartime actions in Korea and China. Seoul and Beijing contend that Japan is trying to whitewash its history of coercing as many as 200,000 women and girls — from occupied countries such as Korea, China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations — to work as sex slaves, while Tokyo says that it has dealt with the issue already.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is weighing how to address the issue in several high-profile speeches marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war this year. Some conservatives are pushing Abe to overturn a two-decade-old apology for Japan’s wartime “aggression” toward its neighbors.

As soon as Wednesday, 19 Japanese university professors will send a letter to McGraw-Hill taking issue with eight phrases in the two paragraphs about the “comfort women” in “Traditions and Encounters,” a 900-page history textbook used in U.S. colleges.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has already attempted to persuade both McGraw-Hill and Herbert Ziegler, the University of Hawaii professor who wrote the paragraphs, to change the wording, and was rebuffed by both. Ziegler last month told The Washington Post that he viewed the request as “an infringement of my freedom of speech and my academic freedom.”

Twenty American professors published a letter in this month’s edition of the American Historical Association’s journal to express their “dismay at recent attempts by the Japanese government to suppress statements in history textbooks both in Japan and elsewhere.”

Now Japanese professors, led by Hata, are taking action, writing to McGraw-Hill to contest the textbook’s statement that as many as 200,000 women were forcibly recruited to be comfort women for Japan’s imperial army. Hata says the real number is about 20,000.

They also take issue with the claim that the women were “a gift from the emperor.” “This is too impolite expression for a school textbook, which defames the national head,” the Japanese letter says.

The Japanese historians also criticize the estimate that the women serviced 20 to 30 soldiers a day. If that were true, Hata said, “the soldiers would have had no time to fight the war; they would have been too busy going to the brothel all the time.”

“I have never seen so many mistakes in such a textbook,” he said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, a heavily annotated copy of the book on the table in front of him.

“Historians, including myself, have decided to lodge a complaint and point out to McGraw-Hill the errors that they have made in their textbook, asking them to correct their errors,” he said, noting that he always thanks readers who write to him to correct errors in his books. “I’m full of great hopes that McGraw-Hill will be grateful to us, too.”

In a statement quoted by the Wall Street Journal in January, after the Foreign Ministry’s request to change the textbook, McGraw-Hill said: “Scholars are aligned behind the historical fact of ‘comfort women,’ and we unequivocally stand behind the writing, research and presentation of our authors.”

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has been promoting Hata to international media organizations, including to The Post, as an expert on the comfort women issue.

But the government has not been involved in the academics’ initiative, said Takako Ito, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. “In any case, the government of Japan respects and values the freedom of thought and freedom of expression in the United States and elsewhere to the fullest,” she said.

By Anna Fifield, who is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Kenzaburo Oe urges Abe to reflect on Japan’s past


Japanese Nobel Prize-winning novelist says Japanese Prime Minister didn’t live through World War II and doesn’t understand Japan’s crimes
“Shinzo Abe is refusing to acknowledge Japan’s terrible past. Japan needs the imagination to forge a new reality through profound reflection on the war.”
Novelist Kenzaburo Oe delivered a scathing critique of the refusal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other Japanese political leaders to acknowledge the country’s past actions. The remarks came while the 81-year-old author was attending the Yonsei-Kim Dae-jung World Future Forum, an event staged by Yonsei University and the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum at the university‘s Baekyang Concert Hall on Mar. 13 to mark the 130th anniversary of the school’s foundation.
“They say imagination alone is not enough to solve the social problems of today, but I believe imagination is something powerfully connected to reality,” Oe said as part of a keynote speech titled “The Future of Human Sensibility.”
The novelist, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, was in South Korea at the invitation of Kim Dae-jung Peace Center chairperson and former First Lady Kim Hee-ho.
“As part of the postwar generation, I developed all the sensibilities in my work while imagining a new society after the war in my teens and twenties,” Oe recalled.
“It seems like that’s the period that Abe most hates to remember and feels most ashamed of,” he continued, directing a message of blunt criticism toward the current administration. “He didn’t experience the Second World War, and I don‘t know he can even imagine just how terrible the crimes Japan committed back then were.”
“Abe wants to forge a new era by rejecting all the efforts Japanese society made to achieve something democratic and humane in the ten years after the war,” Oe said of the administration.
“The bigger problem is that over half of the Japanese public is sending votes of support to the administration,” he added, sounding a note of concern about the strong approval Abe enjoys at home.
“The crimes Japan committed against Asia, and the people of the Korean Peninsula and Korea in particular, were truly atrocious, and I don’t feel that Japan has apologized enough for them,” Oe said.
Oe, who published his first book in 1958, is one of the leading writers and pacifists of Japan’s postwar era. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994 for works such as “The Silent Cry”, he has been a consistent voice against the Abe administration’s militarization and nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 East Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Oe, who has been in poor health recently, said, “In Korean years, I’m 81, so I’m already over eighty.”
“Our future now hinges on forging a new sensibility in individuals. I will spend the last of my days pleading and thinking on those lines,” he continued.
“If we can combine feeling and sensitivity as people of the future generation who are capable of making a contribution to the world, I believe we will gain bearings toward a clearer form of wisdom.”

Merkel advises Japan to settle ‘comfort women’ dispute


German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Japan on Tuesday to resolve the “comfort women” issue in her second foray into the delicate issue of East Asian history following her comment Monday that settling the wartime past is a prerequisite for reconciliation.

Winding up a whirlwind visit to Japan, Merkel met Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, and said Tokyo should “go ahead with reconciliation” with South Korea over the comfort women issue.

“Japan and South Korea share values,” Merkel reportedly told Okada. “It’s better to resolve the . . . issue properly.”

While many historians describe comfort women as sex slaves in light of the harshness of their circumstances and lack of freedom to quit, conservatives say the women were prostitutes engaged in a commercial exchange.

Merkel’s comments come as Japan readies to mark the 70th anniversary of its defeat in World War II.

Following a summit with Abe on Monday, Merkel told a news conference that settling wartime history is “a prerequisite for reconciliation.”

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, however, insisted that it is “inappropriate to simply compare” Japan with Germany over their postwar situations.

“The background — what happened to Japan and Germany during the war and what countries their neighbors are — is different,” Kishida told reporters.

During Monday’s talks, meanwhile, Abe and Merkel pledged to play a more active role in maintaining stability and prosperity in the international community, including finding a peaceful solution for the Ukrainian crisis.

“As responsible global partners, the two countries have very important roles in addressing various issues that not only Asia and Europe but also the international society face,” Abe said at a joint news conference in his office after the summit with Merkel.

Japan Denied Revision of UN Comfort Women Report

According to a statement by government spokesman Yoshihide Suga on Thursday, the Japanese government asked the United Nations to partially retract an old United Nations report detailing abuses against Korean and other women who were forced to work as “comfort women” during the Second World War. The government’s request was rejected by the report’s author. The revelation comes amid a broader trend in Japan where conservative politicians have challenged the veracity of international claims regarding how the Imperial Japanese Army treated women in Korea and elsewhere during the war. Suga did not specify what sections of the report were in question.

The report, authored by former U.N. special rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy in 1996, called on Japan to apologize to the victims and pay reparations to survivors who had been forced into sex slavery during the war. The report was authored after Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a statement in 1993 sharing the conclusions of a Japanese government study that declared that the Imperial Japanese Army was culpable of forcing women — mostly Koreans and Chinese — into sexual slavery. Kono’s statement included an apology and has been under criticism by some Japanese conservatives. For example, current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during his first term in 2007, stated that he did not believe that the women were necessarily forced into sexual slavery, sparking controversy at the time. Though Abe has recently been less willing to explicitly contradict the Kono statement, remarks from within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party suggest that the Kono statement could be amended in the future. That his administration would now try to revise the U.N. special rapporteurs’ report is evidence that Abe’s government is likely pandering to a small but considerably influential conservative political base in Japan.

South Korea condemned the Japanese government’s attempt to revise the report. Noh Kwang-il, spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, remarked, “However hard the Japanese government tries to distort the true nature of the comfort women issue and play down or hide the past wrongdoings, it will never be able to whitewash history.” The domestic debate on the issue in Japan was transformed this summer when the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, a left-leaning publication, issued a retraction of several articles it had published on the issue of sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army that were based on a discredited source. Japanese conservatives took this to vindicate their apprehension about the international consensus on the issue. Despite the Asahi Shimbun‘s retraction, the testimonies of numerous survivors of sexual slavery under the Imperial Japanese Army — particularly South Korean survivors — continue to resonate in the region.

Historical issues are a particular inhibitor to closer ties between Northeast Asian states. In particular, relations between South Korea and Japan have been chilly ever since Shinzo Abe returned to power in December 2012. South Korea continues to demand that Japan resolve the “comfort women” issue ”effectively and in a way that is agreeable to the living victims.” Issues like historical revisionism on the comfort women issue are non-negotiable for the South Korean government. Beyond the government, public opinion of Japan, particularly the government under Abe, is at historic lows in South Korea.

By Ankit Panda from The Diplomat