TV & Radio
Published: March 22, 2007 at 2:24 PM
Analysis: N. Korea scores on Japan in sex
By SHIHOKO GOTO
Senior Business Correspondent
WASHINGTON, March 22 (UPI) -- When it comes to encouraging gender equality, it seems that even North Korea wants to boast of having higher standards than Japan. What's more, there are growing concerns in Japan that its leader's denial of the military forcing Chinese and Korean women into prostitution during World War II is driving a wedge between Japan and the world at large at best, and making it ironic for Japan to pester North Korea about its own human-rights abuse at worst. And for Pyongyang today, creating a schism between Japan and the other countries in negotiating nuclear disarmament may be to its advantage.
For now, there is no doubt that Pyongyang wants to highlight Japan's transgressions and use them to its advantage. At the United Nations' Human Rights Council earlier this week, the North Korean delegation accused Japan of subjugating women even today as it did during World War II. Specifically, it cited a comment made by Japanese Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa in January that women are "child-bearing machines" and warned that the country has essentially remained unchanged on its stance toward women more than 60 years on.
"The Japanese government and military turned girls from the Korean peninsula and other Asian countries into sex slaves. Under the previous Human Rights Council, the United Nations sought to persecute its responsibility, but the Japanese government was backward-looking, and is even trying to deny this problem," the North Korean delegation stated. It added that "as you can see from the current health minister's statement that 'women are child-bearing machines,' there is the threat that Japan can repeat the same crime."
For their part, the Japanese media have interpreted North Korea's comments as one of a number of ways it is seeking to isolate Japan from the six-party talks that seek to denuclearize Kim Jong-Il's regime. For instance, one of the country's most influential dailies, Asahi Shimbun, reported that Pyongyang has been going out of its way to highlight how Japan's interest in the talks is different from those of South Korea, China, Russia and the United States, most notably in its demand for more information on the abduction of Japanese nationals to Pyongyang, in a bid to drive a wedge between Japan and the other countries.
Japan has insisted that unless North Korea becomes more open about the abductions, it will not take part in the initial energy aid package offered by the other members of the six-party talks in return for the regime to be more open about its nuclear capabilities. The irony of Japan calling for more transparency about the abductees even as it tries to sweep its own past under the rug appears to have been lost, at least for now. Meanwhile, Pyongyang has retaliated by saying it does not need Japan's help and instead wants Japan to apologize for its war past.
But while the Japanese media may argue that Pyongyang is deliberately trying to isolate Japan from the six-party talks, it is more likely that Japan is actually shooting itself in the foot as it clamors for more information about those 17 or so individuals abducted in the 1970s and 1980s on the one hand, while brushing aside the issue of forced wartime prostitution on the other. For one thing is clear: Both North and South Korea continue to be united when it comes to criticizing Japan for its past, most notably on the issue of women largely from China and the Korean peninsula forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during World War II, who are still referred to as "comfort women" in Japan.
Certainly, the fact that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers earlier this month in a parliamentary session that there was "no evidence" that the military forced foreign women into prostitution has made matters only worse. Japan's militaristic past, particularly its endorsement of institutionalized rape, has remained a major obstacle for the country in furthering diplomatic ties with its neighbors, particularly in China and the Korean peninsula, where the pains of Japanese occupation were felt the deepest. But the fact that Abe denied that as many as 200,000 women were forced to become prostitutes for Japanese soldiers, and that the prime minister's office subsequently released a statement last week supporting his claims, has further fanned the flames of anger across the East Asia region.
The problem is likely to remain when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Tokyo next month and will most likely be an issue of major concern when Abe goes to Washington at the end of April for a meeting with President George W. Bush.