U.S. sex slave resolution about human rights, not Japan-bashing: Honda

by Eric Johnston

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Rep. Michael Honda and Rep. Jim Costa talk as they wait for a markup session on the sex slave resolution to start in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 26 on Capitol Hill
Rep. Michael Honda – and Rep. Jim Costa talk as they wait for a markup session on the sex slave resolution to start in the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 26 on Capitol Hill.
AP PHOTO

“I feel comfortable that we have the votes for the resolution to pass through the full House, as there are now 158 cosponsors. The date for a vote is not yet set, but it should be before the congressional term ends in early August,” Rep. Michael Honda, D-Calif., said Friday in a telephone interview with The Japan Times.

Prominent cosponsors of the resolution include Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who said in June that, although Japan is a friend and ally of the U.S., the Japanese government needs to do more for the “comfort women” — as they are euphemistically referred to in Japan — because time is running out.

“Out of 200,000 women that were exploited as comfort women by the Japanese Imperial Army, only a few hundred are still alive,” Pelosi told reporters in Washington in late June.

Historians say up to 200,000 women and young girls from East and Southeast Asia were forced into prostitution at “comfort” stations set up for Japanese soldiers, while others, in Japan, claim there were fewer than 20,000.

The resolution, introduced by Honda in late January, calls on Tokyo to apologize in a clear manner for the Imperial army’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery during the 1930s and through the duration of World War II.

It also demands the apology be given as a public statement by the prime minister in his official capacity and that Japan clearly and publicly rebut those who deny the historical reality, and that Japan follow the recommendations of other international organizations, including the United Nations, which are calling on Japan to educate current and future generations about what happened. The resolution was overwhelmingly approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.

Honda, a school teacher turned congressman, added that it’s also time for Japan to learn the lessons of history and face up to its responsibilities.

“This is not a matter of Japan-bashing. It’s a matter of human rights and reconciliation,” Honda said.

He added that by facing up to its past atrocities, Japan can more easily win the trust of its neighbors and accomplish its larger diplomatic goals.

“Why did Japan have so much trouble lining up support for its bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council? Because there is this issue still hanging over the country,” Honda said.

Honda met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when he visited Washington D.C. in April, several weeks after Abe stated that he stood by a 1993 apology by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, in which the government admitted the Japanese military had been involved in forcing women into sexual slavery.

In early February, following Honda’s resolution, Abe had provoked an international furor when he said there was no evidence the Japanese government or military was directly involved in forcing women to serve as sex slaves. When he later backpedaled and said he stood by the Kono statement, U.S. President George W. Bush said he welcomed the move and accepted the apology.

But Honda, while welcoming Abe’s remarks, noted they did not go far enough and that Bush had no right to accept them.

“Bush wasn’t the person who was wronged,” he said.

But the resolution, and Abe’s subsequent apology, drew heated criticism from those in Japan who deny the women were coerced into prostitution, or that, if they were, it was not official government policy.

In June, a group of prominent rightwing journalists and academics, along with 44 Diet members, took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post claiming there was no clear evidence that women were forced into sexual slavery and insisting they were licensed prostitutes embedded with the Japanese army.

Since Honda introduced the resolution, there has also been a steady stream of conservative media commentators attacking Honda personally, suggesting that, as a Japanese-American, he was betraying the country of his ancestors.

Others hinted he was a tool of America’s Chinese and Korean-American communities in his home district who wanted to use the sex slave issue to embarrass Japan.

Honda said Chinese-American and Korean-American political groups are quite organized and powerful, but so are other ethnic groups. He added that just because there was great support among Asian-Americans in his district for the resolution didn’t lessen its moral force.

“You can practice local politics and do the right thing at the same time,” he said. “I have no intention to hurt Prime Minister Abe. But do Japan’s rightwingers really represent the majority of the Japanese? Only open and honest discussion of the facts among the Japanese people will solve the issue,” Honda said.

But he added that public debate must begin with the acknowledgment of historical facts, which show the Japanese government was involved.

“Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but not their own facts,” Honda said.