At Harvard, Abe sticks to Kono message when pressed on ‘comfort women’ issue


Staff Writer

Facing an audience Monday at Harvard University in Boston, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tried to dodge the politically explosive issue of wartime “comfort women” by reaffirming his earlier stance upholding a key 1993 government apology for their ordeal.

“Comfort women” is the euphemism Japan used to refer to females who were forced to work at Japanese wartime military brothels in the 1930s and 1940s.

During a question and answer session after Abe’s speech on the Japanese economy, a Harvard sophomore asked him if he denies that the Japanese government and military were directly involved in forcing “hundreds of thousands of women” into “sexual slavery.”

Abe didn’t directly answer the question, but said he upholds the landmark 1993 apology by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

“When it comes to the comfort women issue, my heart aches when I think about those people who were victimized by human trafficking, who were subjected to immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description,” Abe told the audience through an interpreter.

“My feeling is no different from my predecessors,” he said at the event, which the university streamed live online.

Abe was repeating his earlier remarks on comfort women almost word for word, apparently trying to carefully navigate the political minefield surrounding the issue.

When asked what steps Japan should take to reduce diplomatic tension in the Asia-Pacific region, Abe said Japan “has steadily tread on the path of a peace-loving nation” based on “deep remorse regarding World War II.”

Abe has denied that Japanese government authorities or the military forcibly or directly recruited females for the brothels, apparently trying to emphasize that task was carried out by private-sector operators who mainly recruited females from the Korean Peninsula for Japan’s wartime military brothels.

Speaking to the audience at Harvard, however, Abe did not bring up his pet discussion on how the females were brought to the “comfort stations.”

Instead he stressed that he upholds the Kono statement, as has prime ministers who came before him.

Abe is set to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington on Wednesday. His speech there is likely to be provide a preview of the statement he will issue in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Many leaders around the world are keen to hear whether Abe’s address to Congress will touch on Japan’s wartime atrocities and colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Abe is widely regarded as a historical revisionist who has tried to play down Japan’s liability for its wartime misdeeds in the 1930s and ’40s.

He and his aides appear to be trying to dispel or at least dilute this image while he is in the United States.

In the speech he delivered at Harvard before the question and answer session, Abe said he was determined to carry out structural reforms to make Japan’s economy more productive.

He also emphasized that he is trying to improve the social status of women in Japan and encourage more of them to enter the workforce.

Abe pointed out that he tapped women for two of the top three executive posts of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and is urging industry leaders to promote more women to management positions.

Hiring more women will improve the performance of those companies, Abe argued.

“I often say that had Lehman Brothers been Lehman Brothers and Sisters, they would still be around,” Abe said, drawing laughter from the audience.

  • billjames

    sb; Japan still teaches High School students that Japan was justified and right to wage WWII. It is disgusting

  • montaigne1

    I wonder if Abe will now pen a letter to the Harvard sophomore telling him/her to be ‘fair’ and ‘unbiased’ with any future questions.

  • TomokoHasegawa

    It’s quite rich coming from Abe of all people to complain about the lack of opportunities for women in US companies.

  • Liars N. Fools

    It is nice for Abe Shinzo to display the much nicer Akie-san to soften his image, but in the end Abe Shinzo heads an administration that denies responsibility for war time sexual slavery and which has right wing extremist women ministers like Takaichi, Yamatani, and Arimura as the true face of the Abe Shinzo version of empowerment.

  • Richard Solomon

    Abe speaks out of both sides of his mouth! He tells the Harvard audience that he holds to the Kono statements and that his ‘heart aches’ over how the Comfort Women were treated.

    Meanwhile, he denies that the Japanese military/government had anything to do with the manner in which these women were enslaved. His Education Ministry issues new textbooks which do not even disclose these events to Japanese youth studying history. And his Foreign Ministry pressures publishers and authors in the USA whose books even mention the issue of Comfort Women. NHK Newsline refers to them as ‘so called Comfort Women’ and never mentions that they were forced into sexual slavery during WW II. Did anyone in the audience at Harvard point out these contradictions?

  • John C

    This article doesn’t mention that over 100 Harvard students held a demonstration protesting his visit to Harvard. 18 Harvard student groups signed an open letter demanding that Abe acknowledge Japan’s direct involvement in operating the comfort stations. Abe entered through the back door to avoid the protesters and the people in the audience were asked to surrender water bottles to prevent anyone from throwing them at Abe during his speech.

  • Japanese Bull Fighter

    Just out of curiosity, what do American students learn about US military involvement in prostitution around the now closed Subic Bay base in the Philippines or CIA involvement in drug trafficking in South East Asia during the Vietnam War?

    Abe should model his apology on the US apology for the Vietnam War or its invasion of Iraq.

    Or, perhaps he could model his apology for Japanese imperialism on those of France and Britain for their colonial empires.

  • Chad

    I’m surprised by how many people side with the Harvard students given that they are talking about incidents that went on long before they were born.

  • Ekadish Bal

    I dont understand why i see news articles to do with this over and over again on this website. Why is the prime minister of japan being harassed over something that happened years ago, much before he could have had any part in it?!! If getting apologies from political leaders for what their country did years ago really helped anyone then im sure there is no country that wouldn’t have a litany of apologies to make! I find this fuss over comfort women and over making apologies for war crimes surreal. I am Indian and there is enough that the Britishers did in India that they would make them owe us several apologies! Conversely, Indians must have done many wrongs to other people of other nationalities as well over the years! But thankfully most people here see the pointlessness of rehashing them and demanding apologies.