Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was critical Thursday of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s recent remarks about Japan’s wartime system of military brothels, noting such actions were “harmful” to Japan’s image.
“The real crime in this is this is at such odds . . . with the Japan of the last 70 years, a Japan which has been a paragon of protection of human rights and human freedoms,” Armitage said at a Tokyo forum. “To make these comments, to me, is inane.”
Hashimoto said earlier this month that Japanese military brothels during the war were necessary to maintain discipline, sparking anger in South Korea.
Facing strong criticism at home and abroad, Hashimoto sought to clarify his comments to the foreign media Monday in Tokyo, saying he did not personally view the “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for victims described as sex slaves, as necessary but was merely describing the thinking at the time.
Armitage said such comments are “extraordinarily harmful to all of us” because China uses them as a reason to say to the world that Japan, under the leadership of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is turning to the right and not squarely facing its wartime history.
“Chinese go all around the region, including the United States, with the following message: You know, this government of Mr. Abe, they’re rightwing nationalists,” he said. “So when politicians make comments like this, it does the diplomatic work for China.”
Armitage said people in South Korea are hurt “when politicians make ignorant comments about comfort women,” calling it a “bad development” because the comments “divert attention” from issues that should be addressed, such as China’s growing assertiveness and territorial disputes involving Beijing, including over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Japan and China remain at odds over the sovereignty of the islands, known as Diaoyu in China. When Japan effectively nationalized the islets, which have long been under its control, in September, protests and boycotts of Japanese goods erupted across China. Since then, there have been numerous intrusions by Chinese vessels into Japanese waters.
During the forum on the Japanese-U.S. alliance in the context of Asia, Armitage also downplayed the recent unannounced trip to Pyongyang by Abe adviser Isao Iijima to hold talks with senior North Korean officials.
Armitage noted the need for Japan to inform its allies — the United States and South Korea — in advance and to “take into consideration to some extent the others’ equities” when dealing with North Korea.
“In this case, that was not fully done and that was a mistake,” he said, quickly adding that the incident would not have long-term consequences for the countries’ relations.