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A wrong turn in Tokyo
Mar 21st 2007
Military brothels tarnish Japanese diplomacy
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A MERE six months into his term as Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe has shredded his international reputation by charging into a thicket of wartime history. The trouble began when Mr Abe was asked to respond to the views of a group of revisionist members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and agreed with them in asserting there was no evidence that the Imperial Japanese Army had abducted up to 200,000 women (mainly Korean and Chinese, but also Taiwanese, Burmese and Dutch) and forced them to work in a system of military brothels that operated during the second world war.
This assertion was news to the many elderly women who had testified across Asia and before America’s Congress about the horrors of their servitude as what the Japanese euphemistically call “comfort women”, when they were victims of serial- and gang-rape.
It also goes against evidence unearthed in military archives that eventually obliged the Japanese government to admit in 1993 that coercion had taken place, and to offer remorse of sorts. As outrage over Mr Abe’s comments grew, the prime minister affirmed that his government still stood behind the 1993 admission and apology—but on March 16th his office issued a report that supported his initial statements.
At a stroke, then, Mr Abe has managed not only to set back much of the progress Japan made recently in improving ties with neighbours. He has also antagonised America, an ally. His remarks have given added momentum to a resolution now being debated in Congress, which seeks a full apology from Japan in the matter of wartime sex slaves. Last week the American ambassador to Tokyo, Thomas Schieffer, said that, “the Japanese need to be aware that there is really no constituency for forced prostitution.”
Yet the real measure of Mr Abe’s ineptitude is that he has allowed the issue of the comfort women to give the moral upper hand to one of the world’s most repugnant regimes, that of Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. It is quite a feat.
It helps to recall at this point that North Korea specialised for decades in its own brand of cruel, random and often weird abduction. From the 1950s North Korean spooks began to snatch opponents of Mr Kim’s father, Kim Il Sung, from Soviet-block countries. Then they turned to kidnapping South Koreans, of whom perhaps 500 have been seized and have never returned. In the 1970s and 1980s individual Japanese began disappearing mysteriously, usually from places near or on the west coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu.
For years, successive Japanese governments played down the possibility that North Korea might have kidnapped the missing people. They dismissed the notion of North Korean frogmen landing from submarines on Japanese beaches as the stuff of B-movie fantasy. But five years ago, when Mr Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, was visiting Pyongyang, Mr Kim unexpectedly admitted to abductions. Mr Abe, then a little-known politician, was with Mr Koizumi. He swiftly took a tough line on the issue, grabbing a political break that led last year to his appointment as prime minister.
Five abductees are now back in Japan. In late 2002 Mr Abe fought for Japan to renege on its commitment to Mr Kim to have them return to North Korea after being allowed to visit their families. Japan says that North Korea must properly account for at least another 12 missing. North Korea says that they are either dead already, or they were never kidnapped.
More than anything, Mr Abe’s shaky domestic standing rests on the abduction issue. It is, he says, his “top priority”. In turn, anger over the abductions helps cynical nationalist politicians and right-wing groups to push their agenda of “patriotic” education in schools and a revision of Japan’s pacifist constitution. It is a national taboo for the press or mainstream politicians to point out the links between the abduction movement and these sometimes violent groups.
The abduction issue is not formally part of the six-nation talks designed to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear-weapons programmes, but thanks to Mr Abe’s insistence on its inclusion, it is adding complications there. Two weeks ago in Hanoi bilateral discussions between North Korea and Japan broke down over the abduction row. A new round of collective talks takes place in Beijing this week. North Korea is demanding gleefully that Japan stop talking about abductions, and has called for Japan to apologise and pay for its own historical wrongdoings.
The chief American negotiator at the six-party talks, Christopher Hill, insists that North Korea will not be able to “drive any wedges” between America and Japan. All the same, patience may fray over Mr Abe’s stance on the comfort women. As it is, Japan may already be getting sidelined in the negotiations. Its denial of the comfort women will only compound that. Whatever Mr Abe hoped to achieve by his new assertiveness, it was surely not this.
Japan PM aide denies military forced WW2 sex slaves
Sun Mar 25, 2007 2:25PM BST
TOKYO (Reuters) - A key aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied on Sunday that Japan's army had directly recruited women and forced them to serve as sex slaves for its soldiers during World War Two, Kyodo news agency reported.
Abe has sparked outrage overseas by saying there was no proof Japan's government or army kidnapped women to work as "comfort women", as the wartime sex slaves are known in Japan.
Abe has also said, however, that he stood by a 1993 apology acknowledging official involvement in the brothels.
"There were military nurses and embedded journalists but no 'embedded comfort women'," Kyodo news agency quoted Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura as saying on a radio programme.
"It is true that there were 'comfort women'. I believe some parents may have sold their daughters. But it does not mean the Japanese army was involved," Shimomura added.
Abe's comments denying official involvement in kidnapping women, mostly Asian, to work in the wartime brothels have angered Seoul and risk straining ties with Washington, where U.S. Congressman Michael Honda has introduced a resolution calling for Japan to make an unambiguous apology for the suffering of the sex slaves.
China, apparently keen to keep a recent improvement in relations with Japan on track, has called on Tokyo to face up to its past but has been relatively restrained in its comments ahead of a visit next month by Premier Wen Jiabao.
Congress is not expected to vote on the Honda resolution until May, after Abe makes a visit to Washington for talks with close ally, U.S. President George W. Bush.
No.829 [ 週刊朝日2007年3月30日号 ]
The Use and Abuse of the Past
By Hideaki Kase
History is a hot topic in Japan these days, with the country's wartime behavior returning to haunt its citizens. Many Japanese are dismayed by the possibility that the U.S. House of Representatives will soon demand a formal apology from Tokyo for the imperial military's alleged use of "comfort women," or sex slaves, during World War II. This talk has taken the Japanese government by surprise, especially given its unprecedented support for Washington in Iraq and the war onterrorism.
The world can't comprehend why Japan is reluctant to say sorry once more. But most Japanese can't understand why issues like the comfort women or the Nanking Massacre have resurfaced at all. Since World War II, the country has abided by the pacifism forced on it by the U.S. occupation. To promote such peacefulness, the Japanese media and intellectuals created an image of Japan as a warlike place that had to be prevented from rearming at all costs. To heighten the danger, the media also exaggerated or even invented wretched acts supposedly committed by Japan's imperial forces.
In the first years after the nation's surrender in 1945, many of its citizens found this imposed meekness hard to take. In 1952, for example, the Diet unanimously called for the men convicted by the Allied war-criminal trials to be treated the same as those honorably killed or injured on the battlefield. Half of Japan's then population signed petitions calling for the immediate release of incarcerated war criminals, and the major political parties of the day refused to accept any war guilt.
By the 1970s, however, this resistance began to diminish as memories of the war faded and the economy began to boom. Intoxicated by its unprecedented affluence, Japan was willing to ask forgiveness of its neighbors if this proved good for business. In 1993, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized for Japan's having coerced women into prostitution during the war. Three years later, on the 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender, the Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama acknowledged that Japanese aggression during the war had caused "tremendous damage and suffering" to many Asian countries.
In recent years, however, long-dormant nationalism has begun to rise again due to several factors. First, during the economic slump that extended into the early part of this decade, the benefits of apologizing became less clear. Second, the conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is 53, and the bulk of his cabinet and aides are in their 40s and 50s. Most don't understand why they should do penance for events that occurred before they were born.
Japanese nationalism has also been revived by China's alarming military buildup and North Korea's nascent nuclear threat. And it has spiked in response to the way Japan's neighbors seem to be exploiting bad history for present gain. Seoul did not even raise the comfort-women issue, for example, when it normalized relations with Tokyo in 1965; it was Japanese leftists who finally broached the topic in the 1980s.
The fact is that the brothels were commercial establishments. U.S. Army records explicitly declare that the comfort women were prostitutes, and found no instances of "kidnapping" by the Japanese authorities. It's also worth noting that some 40 percent of these women were of Japanese origin.
Many Japanese politicians have also come to believe that the Nanking Massacre was a fabrication of the Chinese, who are using it to pressure Japan into granting concessions in other areas. More than 60 Diet members conducted several study sessions in February and March. Much evidence disproving the massacre was presented; for example, although the Chinese Nationalist Ministry of Information conducted more than 300 press conferences over 11 months after the fall of Nanking, it never breathed a word about any massacre. Nor did Chiang Kai-shek or Mao Zedong refer to it in statements on the first anniversary of the war.
Diet members are now forming a new caucus to study the facts. Whatever they find, further apologies are unlikely. The country's attitude has changed dramatically since the 1970s. In recent decades, for example, many Japanese history textbooks blamed Japanese forces for massacring 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese civilians in Nanking. Only one textbook mentions such events today. Saluting the rising-sun flag and singing the national anthem (the title of which translates as "Your Noble Reign") have become mandatory in public schools. These are small but telling signs of how Japan's sentiments have changed. The country is eager to resume its place in the world as a normal nation, with a normal defense and foreign policy. The harder its neighbors or the United States push it for apologies, the harder Japan may start pushing back.
Kase is a historian and author who served as an adviser to Prime Ministers Takeo Fukuda and Yasuhiro Nakasone.
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.
Washington Post Editorial
Shinzo Abe's Double Talk
He's passionate about Japanese victims of North Korea -- and blind to Japan's own war crimes.
Saturday, March 24, 2007; A16
THE TOUGHEST player in the "six-party" talks on North Korea this week was not the Bush administration -- which was engaged in an unseemly scramble to deliver $25 million in bank funds demanded by the regime of Kim Jong Il -- but Japan. Tokyo is insisting that North Korea supply information about 17 Japanese citizens allegedly kidnapped by the North decades ago, refusing to discuss any improvement in relations until it receives answers. This single-note policy is portrayed as a matter of high moral principle by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has used Japan's victims -- including a girl said to have been abducted when she was 13 -- to rally his wilting domestic support.
Mr. Abe has a right to complain about Pyongyang's stonewalling. What's odd -- and offensive -- is his parallel campaign to roll back Japan's acceptance of responsibility for the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II. Responding to a pending resolution in the U.S. Congress calling for an official apology, Mr. Abe has twice this month issued statements claiming there is no documentation proving that the Japanese military participated in abducting the women. A written statement endorsed by his cabinet last week weakened a 1993 government declaration that acknowledged Japan's brutal treatment of the so-called comfort women.
In fact the historical record on this issue is no less convincing than the evidence that North Korea kidnapped Japanese citizens, some of whom were used as teachers or translators. Historians say that up to 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and other Asian countries were enslaved and that Japanese soldiers participated in abductions. Many survivors of the system have described their horrifying experiences, including three who recently testified to Congress. That the Japanese government has never fully accepted responsibility for their suffering or paid compensation is bad enough; that Mr. Abe would retreat from previous statements is a disgrace for a leader of a major democracy.
Mr. Abe may imagine that denying direct participation by the Japanese government in abductions may strengthen its moral authority in demanding answers from North Korea. It does the opposite. If Mr. Abe seeks international support in learning the fate of Japan's kidnapped citizens, he should straightforwardly accept responsibility for Japan's own crimes -- and apologize to the victims he has slandered.
Former Japanese Premier Nakasone Denies Setting Up War Brothel
By Kiyori Ueno
March 23 (Bloomberg) -- Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone denied setting up brothels and recruiting sex slaves as a naval officer during World War II, while acknowledging that victims of such actions deserved an apology.
``I helped to set up rest houses and leisure centers for workers,'' Nakasone, who served as prime minister from 1982-1987, told reporters at the Foreign Correspondent Club of Japan in Tokyo today. ``They weren't comfort stations,'' he said, using the Japanese euphemism for wartime brothels.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has upset Japan's Asian neighbors and others recently with comments playing down the Japanese military's role in forcing as many as 200,000 women into sexual slavery during the war. Nakasone wrote in his 1978 memoir that he set up a ``comfort station'' to stop members of his unit attacking women.
Abe on March 1 said there was ``no evidence'' that the military forced women into sexual servitude during Japan's occupation of Asia during the war and his office released a report on March 16 backing his statement up.
As many as 200,000 women, mostly from Korea and China, served as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers during the war, and Abe has repeatedly said he supports a 1993 apology to the women.
``There were comfort women and I've heard the circumstance there were in,'' Nakasone said today. ``I don't know if there was coercion.''
He said he supports the Japanese government's 1993 apology to the women. ``We must embrace the fact and we must apologize to those women if there was violation of human rights.''
To contact the reporter on this story: Kiyori Ueno in Tokyo at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: March 23, 2007 05:20 EDT
Former Japanese leader Nakasone denies setting up sex slave brothel in World War II
Former Japanese leader Nakasone denies setting up sex slave brothel in World War II
The Associated Press
Friday, March 23, 2007
TOKYO: A Japanese former prime minister and elder statesman Friday denied setting up a military brothel staffed by sex slaves during World War II, despite writing a memoir that critics say shows he did so while in the navy.
Yasuhiro Nakasone, who served as prime minister from 1982 to 1987 and was known for his friendship with then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan, described the facility he set up as a place for civilian engineers to relax and play Japanese chess.
"I never had personal knowledge of the matter," Nakasone told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan when asked about wartime sex slaves, known in Japan euphemistically as "comfort women."
"I only knew about it from what I read in the newspaper," he said, adding that such enslavement was "deplorable" and that he supported the Japanese government spokesman's 1993 apology to victims.
Historians say thousands of women — most from Korea and China — worked in the frontline brothels, and estimates run as high as 200,000. Victims say they were forced into the brothels by the Japanese military and were held against their will.
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a resolution that calls on Japan to make a full apology for the brothels, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stirred criticism earlier this month when he denied there was evidence the women were forced into service.
A Nakasone memoir published in 1978 said that members of his 3,000-man navy unit in wartime Philippines and Borneo "began attacking women, while others took to gambling."
"At one point, I went to great pains to set up a comfort station" to keep them under control, he wrote. The essay was in an anthology of war accounts, "The Eternal Navy — Stories to Hand Down to the Younger Generation."
In the 1990s, former Philippine sex slaves cited the memoir as further proof Nakasone was involved with enslavement, bolstering their demands that Tokyo compensate the victims. The Japanese government in 1995 set up a private fund for the women, but never offered direct government compensation.
A Nakasone spokesman in 1997 told The Associated Press that the brothel was operated by local business people and that the prostitutes worked there voluntarily and had not been forced into sexual slavery.
But on Friday, Nakasone was vague about the activities at the facility, skirting a question about whether prostitutes were active there.
"The engineers ... wanted to have a facility to relax and play 'go,' so we simply established a place so they could have that," Nakasone said, explaining that the men — civilian engineers — needed someplace for rest and entertainment.
Nakasone's government, as all Japanese governments until the 1990s, denied any official involvement with the wartime brothels.
The former prime minister is known in Japan for his nationalist stance. In 1985, he was the first Japanese prime minister to visit a Tokyo war shrine after it began honoring executed war criminals.
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.