Don’t reopen old wounds

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Feb. 28 told the Lower House Budget Committee that the Abe administration will start examining the process in which then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono’s August 1993 statement on the issue of wartime “comfort women” was made.

Comfort women refer to those women who got caught up in the wartime institutionalization of sexual services provided to members of the Imperial Japanese armed forces.

The 1993 Kono statement, among other things, stated that “The Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women” and that “in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, “at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.”

While the Abe administration has made it clear that it will examine the process in which the Kono statement was prepared, it has stopped short of declaring that it will revise the statement.

But given the record of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on historical issues — past statements calling for scrapping the Kono statement and expressing doubt that there is a clear definition of military “aggression” as well as his December visit to Yasukuni Shrine, Japan’s war shrine — the Abe administration’s latest move will rouse suspicions in the international community about the ultimate purpose of examining the process of the Kono statement’s making.

Such suspicions will not only further harm Japan’s already chilly relations with South Korea — since a large number of comfort women were recruited from among Koreans — but also damage Japan’s relations with Japan’s main ally, the United States.

Washington strongly hopes that Japan-South Korea ties will stabilize and is concerned about Abe’s apparent revisionist tendencies. The Abe administration’s decision to have a special team consider the issue of the Kono statement behind closed doors will only add to people’s and other countries’ suspicions.

Thus far, studies conducted by researchers with different views on the comfort women issue agree that the Japanese military was involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women, although many comfort stations were under private ownership.

Does the Abe administration seek the collection of new evidence or testimony in order to prove that the conclusions drawn from the prior research were false?

If it accepts the established conclusions, there is no need to examine the process of how the Kono statement came about. Rejecting the results will spark strong reaction in the international community. The Abe administration should not ignore the existence of documents and testimony that also show that the Japanese military forcibly recruited Dutch women in Indonesia and forced them to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. The fact cannot be erased that many women suffered greatly as a result of serving as comfort women for members of the Imperial Japanese military.

The Kono statement is significant because it extended the Japanese government’s “sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place or origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”

If the Abe administration tries to weaken or scrap the Kono statement, the perception is likely to strengthen in the international community that the Abe administration is bent on whitewashing Japan’s wartime behavior and, even today, does not respect the honor and dignity of women. Abe should keep in mind that such a perception could lead to the sheer isolation of Japan in the international community, not to mention the deterioration of its relations with its neighbors and the U.S.

The government should back off the examination of the process leading to the Kono statement. It would do well to remember that this statement as well as Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s Aug. 15, 1995, statement — in which Japan apologized to Asian peoples for its colonial rule and military aggression — helped to heal old wounds and to increase international trust of Japan.