Monday, November 10, 2014

Mindy Kotler: Comfort Women, US-Japan Historic Justice and the Bush Administration

Mindy Kotler
The Cable
White House: Japan should do more to address ‘comfort women’ issue
BY JOSH ROGIN FEBRUARY 21, 2013 - 11:19 AM

On the eve of Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Washington, a top White House official said that Japan should do more to address lingering regional and international anger over its handling of World War II atrocities, including the forced sexual enslavement of hundreds of thousands of "comfort women."
On a conference call Thursday, The Cable asked top White House officials whether President Barack Obama believes that the Japanese government has done enough to address the comfort-women issue and whether Obama would raise the issue when he meets Abe on Friday. The top White House official dealing with Asia, National Security Council Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel, said that the impetus was on Japan to do more.
"President Obama knows full well that there are very sensitive legacy issues from the last century and believes that it's important to take steps to promote healing. So our position has always been to encourage Japan to take steps that will foster better relations, that will foster closer relations will all of its neighbors," Russel said. "At the same time, we would hope and expect that others would reciprocate to constructive and positive steps the Japanese government might take."
Last July, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused a diplomatic rift between the United States and Japan when it was reported that she corrected a State Department employee during a private briefing, insisting that the term "comfort women" was incorrect and that the victims of forced prostitution in wartime Japan should instead be called "enforced sex slaves."

Russel declined to say whether Obama would raise the issue directly with Abe Friday.
"Prime Minister Abe will be here and will be addressing the public as part of his own program," Russel said. "Let's hear what he has to say when he visits Washington."
White House officials did say that Abe and Obama are likely to talk about tensions in the East China Sea, tensions in the South China Sea, Iran, Afghanistan, North Africa, North Korea, the Trans Pacific Partnership, climate change, and cyber security.
Soon after Abe's Liberal Democratic Party took control back from the Democratic Party of Japan in parliamentary elections last December, Abe's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga shocked the region by suggesting that the Abe government wanted to review the 1993 Japanese government statement apologizing for the Japanese military's treatment of the "comfort women" and acknowledging the military's role in setting up "comfort" stations during the war.
In late January, Abe backed off of Suga's remarks and said that his government was shelving plans to review the 1993 statement, which had been issued by Suga's predecessor Yohei Kono. "The matter should not be turned into a political and diplomatic issue," Abe told Japan's Lower House on Jan. 31.
"There have been many wars throughout history, involving infringement on the human rights of women," Abe said. "When it comes to the issue of comfort women, my heart aches acutely when I think about those who had to go through painful experiences beyond description. I am no different from successive prime ministers on that point."
That promise wasn't enough for some U.S. lawmakers, who issued statements Thursday calling on the Japanese government to do more to make amends.
"Japan's government must fully acknowledge, apologize for and increase awareness of its history of ‘comfort women,'" Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said in a statement. "These survivors of physical, sexual and psychological violence that was sanctioned by the Japanese government deserve this apology. But beyond that Japan must prove to the rest of the world that it is willing to express sincere regret for a systematic atrocity that was committed in its country's history in order to move forward as a democracy."
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) said in a statement Thursday that as a former inhabitant of an American internment camp during World War II, he knew from personal experience that reconciliation related to the war was only achievable through direct government action.
"Indeed, nothing is more important right now than for a democratic country like Japan to formally acknowledge and unequivocally apologize for its systematic atrocity. Government is a living, breathing organism that is responsible for its past, present and future," Honda said. "In order to move toward a more peaceful, global world, Japan must accept responsibility and apologize. The grandmothers -- those survivors of physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetuated by Japan's Imperial Army -- are still waiting for an appropriate apology."
Israel and Honda wrote a letter Feb. 20 to Japan's ambassador to Washington Kenichiro Sasae urging the Japanese government not to revise the Kono statement, as the 1993 apology is known, and also calling on the Abe government to go further in apologizing and acknowledging wrongdoing.
In 2007, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution expressing the sense of the U.S. Congress that Japan should "formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force's coercion of young women into sexual slavery."
Mindy Kotler, an expert on the comfort-women issue and the founder of Asia Policy Point, a non-profit organization that does research on Japan, told The Cable that the concern over the Abe government's handling of this issue goes much deeper than just the statements his aide made about revising the Kono statement.
"Abe and his supporters -- and you have to remember that 10 members of his cabinet including himself signed an ad last November that appeared in the New Jersey Star Ledger condemning the Comfort Women -- hold antiquated views of women, war, and just general human rights," she said. "Thus the problem is not about history but about a worldview that is out of touch with contemporary values and understanding. They do not engender trust, which is critical to any security situation in Asia."

A bronze statue of a girl in traditional Korean clothing, dedicated to the 'comfort women' forced into sexual slavery for the Imperial Japanese military, is unveiled in Glendale Central park near Los Angeles last July. | KYODO
‘Comfort women’ statues spur debate
U.S. cities take action as Japan sticks to denials on war history
FEB 27, 2014

In the northern Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, population 192,000, sits a public park with a simple statue that has become a lightning rod in the brewing political storm among the United States, Japan and South Korea over the past few months.

Erected by the Glendale city council last summer, the statue is of an Asian girl sitting in a chair with an empty chair beside her. Beside that chair is a plaque that reads: “I was a sex slave of (the) Japanese military.”

The empty chair, the plaque explains, “symbolizes comfort women survivors who are dying of old age without having yet witnessed justice.”

The plaque adds that the monument is dedicated to the “memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945.”

It’s the last part of this description that has escalated tensions between right-wing local-level politicians in Japan and human rights organizations and local governments in the U.S., adding to more general worries and frustrations in the U.S., South Korea and China over Japan’s political direction.

American concern over the issue morphed into a bilateral crisis in 2007 after Shinzo Abe, during his first term as prime minister, issued a Cabinet statement saying the government did not find anything that directly proves there was coercive recruitment by the military or government authorities.

A major uproar in Washington followed. California Rep. Mike Honda introduced a resolution, which was unanimously passed, calling on Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific.”

But the resolution was nonbinding, and Japan ignored it, prompting American human rights groups to go local.

“We waited for Japan’s positive reaction to the House resolution, to no avail. That’s when we decided to erect memorials for the victims on U.S. public land,” said Phyllis Kim of the Korean American Forum of California.

An intense lobbying campaign began and in 2010 Palisades Park, New Jersey, became the first U.S. locality to erect a comfort women memorial. In 2012 and 2013, following Abe’s return as prime minister, American local government actions on behalf of the comfort women once again increased.

Today, there is another comfort women monument at the Veterans Memorial at Eisenhower Park in Nassau County, New York, while state legislatures in New York, New Jersey and Illinois have voiced support for the comfort women.

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama signed into a law the 2014 appropriations act that contained language urging Secretary of State John Kerry to officially raise the comfort women issue with Japan.

While Kerry is not legally obligated to do so, pressure from Honda, who pushed for the language in the appropriations act, and other activist groups, including Asian-American groups and human rights groups, shows no signs of fading. Earlier in February, Honda wrote to Kerry explaining his stance.

“There are those who believe the Japanese government has apologized and sufficiently addressed this issue. I vehemently disagree. As is evident from the statement by the Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto (last year), that the comfort women system was necessary, the visit to Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Minister Abe, who once considered ‘comfort women’ as ‘prostitutes,’ and recent remarks by (NHK chairman) Katsuto Momii, this issue remains unresolved for the survivors and human rights advocates, destabilizing for regional and global security, and relevant in light of ongoing conflicts and gender-based violence,” Honda said.

While the Abe administration has remained relatively quiet over specific efforts by local governments in the U.S., Japanese local politicians who deny the comfort women were sex slaves visited Glendale and other cities, claiming that the monuments and resolutions are the result of Korean discrimination against Japan, and that Japanese in the U.S. are being bullied by Koreans.

“In Glendale, we conducted hearings of local Japanese. They told us their children were suffering from Korean bullying. Koreans say that the comfort women problem is a human rights problem. But the situation (with the comfort women statue) can only lead to a new conflict, which means racial discrimination towards Japanese,” said Yoshiko Matsuura, an assemblywoman from Tokyo’s Suginami Ward who recently led a delegation to Glendale and other cities to protest the comfort women monuments.

Matsuura and Tomoko Tsujimura, a municipal assemblywoman from the Tokyo city of Komae, told foreign journalists in Japan earlier this week that the claims the comfort women were coerced or that the Japanese military or government was involved were a complete fabrication, though they offered no evidence to support that assertion.

For their part, Japanese-American group leaders deplored the attempt by Japan’s right-wing to try to paint the comfort women redress movement as one only Koreans are interested in and support. They also dismissed Matsuura’s and Tsujimura’s allegations of Japanese children being bullied over the Glendale statue as exaggerations at best, saying they’d heard of no such incidents.

“I feel that among U.S.-born Japanese-Americans who have studied the issue, their sympathies would be for the comfort women. There is a sizeable population of shin-isseis (postwar new immigrants) in Southern California. Many of them are naturalized citizens. I’m generalizing, but their schooling in Japan, the intensity of their schooling in the importance of patriotism and loyalty, and their sanitized history schoolbooks seems to have produced an attitude of ‘our country, right or wrong,’ ” said Harold Kameya of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, which supported the Glendale statue.

David Monkawa of Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, which also supported the Glendale statue, said that, while politicians like Matsuura and Tsujimura cry about alleged bullying by Koreans of Japanese in the U.S., they have a broader agenda of increasing the militarization of Japan and don’t seem bothered by Koreans in Japan getting bullied by right-wing groups.

“Their extreme social ‘nationalism’ and scapegoating of the comfort women atrocity as falsified history fosters hatred for Koreans and others. Just look at the demonstrations in Tokyo (in Shin-Okubo) and other cities last year, with mobs chanting ‘Koreans, get out of Japan,’ ” he said.

Mindy Kotler, director of the Washington D.C.-based Asia Policy Point, agrees with charges in Japan that Korean-American groups are heavily involved in pushing the comfort women issues at the local level, but adds that Japan’s right-wing politicians are missing a fundamental point.

“Koreans are coming of age politically in the U.S. They are practicing ‘retail politics’ as every ethnic group in the U.S. has. They are not doing anything different than the Irish, the Armenians, the Jews, or the Greeks.

“It’s a Japanese worldview that sees this as an effort to embarrass Japan. It is not viewed that way here, only as standing up for your heritage,” she said.

Meanwhile, in Glendale, the controversy continues. Last week, a Glendale resident and a Los Angeles resident filed a lawsuit with the U.S. federal court to have the statue removed. Dave Weaver, the mayor of Glendale, is also uncertain of the wisdom of having the comfort women memorial.

In a letter to Glendale sister city Higashi-Osaka last year, he apologized for the statue and said the comfort women problem was between South Korea and Japan, and not something Glendale should have gotten involved in.

But as the political battle between Japanese politicians, local and national, who deny the comfort women were forced into prostitution by the state, and U.S. human rights groups and local governments pushing for more comfort women memorials gets nastier and continues to expand, it’s clear Weaver’s words to Higashi-Osaka are ringing hollow.

Given recent comments by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga that the government will consider re-examining the testimonies of 16 comfort women that led to the 1993 comfort women apology — known as the Kono Statement — combined with anger in Washington over the separate issue of Abe’s visit to Yasukuni late last year, international distrust of Abe’s motives and exasperation at Japanese right-wing attitudes toward history continue to grow.

That means no end in sight to the continued political clashes at the national level and, as the American comfort women memorial movement shows, more intense clashes at the local political level.

Response to “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women”
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NAPSNet Policy Forum
Recommended Citation
"Response to “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women”", NAPSNet Policy Forum, March 29, 2007,
Discussion of Policy Forum Online 07-027A: March 29th, 2007
Response to “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women”

By Bruce Klingner


I. Introduction

II. Comments by Paul Midford on “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women”

III. Response by Mindy Kotler on “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women”

IV. Nautilus invites your responses Go to “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women” (March 29th, 2007)

Go to Policy Forum Online index

I. Introduction
The following are comments on the editorial ” Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women” by Mindy L. Kotler. Paul Midford is an Associate Professor and Director of the NTNU Japan Program at the Department of Political Science & Sociology at the Dragvoll, Norwegian University for Science and Technology (NTNU).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Nautilus Institute. Readers should note that Nautilus seeks a diversity of views and opinions on contentious topics in order to identify common ground.

II. Comments by Paul Midford on “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women”
I believe Mindy Kotler’s post shows a lack of understanding for the significance of then Chief Cabinet Secretary Kohno Yohei’s statement of apology to women coerced into sexual servitude during the Pacific War. First, she is wrong to suggest that a Chief Cabinet Secretary is the equivalent of a White House Press Secretary. Unlike a White House Press Secretary, a Chief Cabinet Secretary is a full Minister of State, answerable to the Diet. Indeed, the Cabinet Secretary is often the second most important figure in the cabinet, a virtual deputy prime minister, with responsbility for managing the cabinet and keeping other ministers in line.

Second, since the Kohno apology was issued in the name of “The Government of Japan,” it was clearly an official statement, not a personal opinion, as Mindy Kotler seems to believe. Indeed, much of his statement repeated findings of fact from an official government investigation, the results of which were made public. The Kohno statement has been undeniably treated as an official position by the Japanese government. The Foreign Ministry has posted the Kohno statement on its web site as an official statement of policy in Japanese as well as English. (In English see: ; in Japanese see: ). Ms. Kotler herself admits that members of the LDP are lobbying the Abe cabinet to “water down” the Kohno statement. This would obviously be both meaningless and impossible unless Kohno’s statement constitutes official policy of the Japanese government. Prime Minister Abe Shinzo would not have publicly reaffirmed the Kohno statement, even if reluctantly, if it had simply been the opinion of a single individual.

Other official statements, such as prime minister Murayama’s apology of August 1995, an apology often repeated by former prime minister Koizumi, is similar in form to the Kohno statement (i.e. a statement issued by a leading cabinet member in the name of the Government of Japan), yet nobody has claimed that the Murayama apology is anything but official. China for example, treats both the Kohno and Murayama apologies as official positions of the Japanese government.

I entirely agree that Japan needs to make an unequivocal apology for its mass enslavement of large numbers of Asian women into sexual servitude until 1945, as well as conduct much more thorough research (such as interviewing and taking into account the testimony of the so-called “comfort women”) into the role of the Japanese military, Asians and others in coercing these women into such slavery. However, our efforts to this end will be greatly hindered unless we understand the steps Japan has taken in this direction already, and unless we understand her democratic institutions.

III. Response by Mindy Kotler on “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women”
Professor Paul Midford correctly reiterates the position that the Japanese government presents to the outside world-that the Kono Danwa (Statement) is to be considered official. The Kono Danwa is displayed on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MOFA) website precisely to provide corroboration for this assertion.

However, the MOFA use of “official” relies upon a narrow interpretation of that word-on the order of “it is official because an official said it”-that conflicts with the generally accepted meaning that an “official position” is one that is binding upon the government.

Questions about the ability of the Kono Danwa to commit the Abe Cabinet to an apology for the Comfort Women were answered by a March 16, 2007 Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei). Here, the Cabinet affirmed that the Kono Danwa had not been sanctioned by a Cabinet Decision. This would have been a pointless exercise unless the Abe Cabinet needed to demonstrate that the Kono Danwa possessed questionable legal stature.

In addition, within days of taking office, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo was asked in a Diet session whether or not he considered the Kono Danwa to be “keisho shite iru.” The Prime Minister confirmed that he believed the Kono Danwa to be so. Keisho shite iru is generally a casual phrase meaning “to be in a continuing state of being heritable.” The Prime Minister did not confirm that he and his government “accepted” the Kono Danwa . Prime Minister Abe simply confirmed was that he recognizes that previous Cabinets have stood behind the Kono Danwa .

Why would Prime Minister Abe be asked whether or not he considers the Kono Danwa to be a part of his office’s historical legacy unless there was a question about whether or not he considered it a part of his office’s historical legacy?

Professor Midford finds a seeming contradiction between 1) my view that the Kono Danwa lacks official stature and 2) my warning that members of the LDP were lobbying to water down the Kono Danwa .

There is no contradiction. The idea that the prime minister could by himself, in whole or in part, repudiate the Kono Danwa -without consulting the Cabinet, the country’s chief executive body (Article 65)-indicates that the “official” status of the Kono Danwa is precarious.

Professor Mitford is correct in saying that the role of the chief cabinet secretary is more than that of a White House Press Secretary. The position has shades of many offices in a White House such as the Vice President or the Chief of Staff. All these combined roles, however, do not give the chief cabinet secretary a stature equal to that of a prime minister or ultimately that of the entire Cabinet. Historically, the role of the chief cabinet secretary was not as powerful as it is now, and most certainly not at the time of the Kono Danwa in 1993.

Professor Mitford is also correct in saying the 1995 apology by Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi was an official apology. However, the 1995 Murayama apology was for Japan’s Pacific War. Prime Minister Murayama made no specific mention of Comfort Women in his remarks.

In all of the above, the critical factor is the recognition that the Cabinet is the executive authority of the Government of Japan. The “official” actions of a Japanese prime minister require the approval of the Cabinet. A prime minister’s statement-or a chief cabinet minister’s statement-not backed by a Cabinet decision is a proposition or a personal assumption.

IV. Nautilus invites your responses
The Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network invites your responses to this essay. Please send responses to: . Responses will be considered for redistribution to the network only if they include the author’s name, affiliation, and explicit consent.

Produced by The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainable Development
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2014.10.17 (金)印刷する
韓国紙の国基研批判が示す慰安婦反論の要点 島田洋一(福井県立大学教授)

内容は型にはまっていて知的に得るものはないが、いくつか興味深い点がある。まず記者(韓国人)は、慰安婦を「強制徴用」(forcible mobilization)された存在と断定している。今や国際社会が問題にするのは強制連行の有無ではなく慰安所における強制的生活などと主張する向きも日本国内にはあるが、それは現実に目をふさいだ言い立てである。慰安婦=日本軍による強制連行という虚偽宣伝は今も国際舞台で盛んに行われている。この記事もその一例だ。

JoongAng Ilbo(中央日報)
facts about ‘comfort women’
Oct 01, 2014
Yoichi Shimada, a council member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and two others met with Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point, Larry Niksch, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and Dennis Halpin, a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) earlier this month, where they were presented with a booklet titled “The Comfort Women Issue” by Japanese rightists.
It defines the “comfort women” - a term used to euphemistically refer to sexual slaves mobilized by Japan for use in its Imperial Army before and during World War II - as “women who were in the position of having to sell sex to soldiers even though it was not their intention.”
While the booklet portrayed the sexual slavery as being conducted against the women’s will, describing it as “to sell sex” slyly defines their enslavement as prostitution. Also, it argues that “the cause for their recruitment was not coercion by government authorities but their poverty and the intervention of private recruiters,” which rebuts the forcible mobilization of these women and holds them responsible.
It has been revealed that ultra-conservative private Japanese organizations also distributed the promotional booklet that describes the wartime sex slavery as prostitution to think tanks in Washington, D.C.
Halpin was furious as he told me about the booklet. The Japanese are attempting to convince the United States and the international community that the comfort women were not sex slaves of imperial Japan. He added that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had defined comfort women as wartime sex slaves.
The booklet also claims that the 1996 report on comfort women, a special investigation by the UN Human Rights Commission into the violence they had suffered, was based on false allegations, as Japanese recruiter Seiji Yoshida’s testimony had been “proven to be untrue.” The report is based on evidence and testimonies by comfort women, includinga girl taken by Japanese guards at thirteen years of age and another victim who thought she was going to work at a munitions factory. The booklet devalues the testimonies of former sex slaves, as “no effort was made to authenticate their testimony or question contradictory points.”
Despite the work of Japanese far-rightists, it is generally acknowledged that their claims are not convincing, as Washington approaches wartime sex slavery as a human rights violation. It seems they don’t understand that false claims cannot cover up their shameful history.

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 30, Page 33

Guest Post by Mindy Kotler: Comfort Women, US-Japan Historic Justice and the Bush Administration
Steve Clemons - July 30, 2007 11 COMMENTSPRINTEMAILSHARE
A former “comfort woman” in South Korea
Mindy Kotler is director of Asia Policy Point a Washington nonprofit research center that studies the U.S. policy relationship with Japan and Northeast Asia.
Thank you Steve for this opportunity to guest blog about Asia on TWN. Like Steve, I lament the many missteps and poor decisions made by the Bush Administration. U.S. policy toward Asia is no exception. Although relations with Japan are believed to be going well, they are built upon a fragile base that masks a multitude of contradictions.
Today, July 30th, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously adopted a resolution introduced by Rep Mike Honda (D-CA) on January 31 asking the Government of Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘comfort women’, during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II.” The necessity of this resolution illustrates well the inadequacies of the Administration’s Asia policy.
What the House of Representatives saw as an important step toward encouraging historical reconciliation in Asia, the Japanese government believed was affront to their national honor. The Bush Administration, although fearful the resolution would provoke right-wing anti-Americanism in Japan derailing alliance building, found itself unable to speak out against it. The Abe Administration’s denial of the internationally accepted comfort women history was simply too embarrassing to a White House intent on promoting the U.S.-Japan Alliance as based on shared values. The resolution too easily exposed the current effort to shape a new U.S.-Japan relationship is at cross-purposes with other American foreign policy goals.
The resolution, H, Res. 121, was the fifth time Congress has considered legislation suggesting that Japan apologize for perpetrating the comfort women tragedy during its Pacific War. It is the second time the resolution was reported out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee positively (once under the Republicans and now under the Democrats). The success of this bipartisan resolution can be attributed to a number of factors, none that outweighed the other.
Unique to this Comfort Woman resolution was that a select, international group of scholars advised congressional staff on Japanese history and political process. These scholars advised on how the resolution would be perceived in Japan and prepared briefing papers that carefully explained and documented how and why the government of Japan had never given an official apology to the Comfort Women. They were also available to respond to Embassy of Japan’s lobbying statements, to answer staffers’ specific questions, and to explain the nuances of the Japanese language of apology. (My organization spearheaded this effort and many of these briefing papers can be found on our website.)
Members of Congress and their staff learned that Japanese governmental statements of policy, such as an important diplomatic apology to the Comfort Women, must either be approved by a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) or a Diet resolution to be considered official. Thus far, no Japanese apology to the Comfort Women meets either of these criteria. Moreover, it is the Cabinet not the prime minister that is constitutionally the chief executive of Japan. Without a Cabinet Decision backing up a prime minister’s policy statement, he is only expressing his personal views. It was a lesson with implications far beyond that of Japan’s historical responsibility.
The effort also demonstrated the growing political maturity of the Asian American community, especially Korean American. Asian American volunteers and the human rights groups, coordinated by two young Korean American Washington lobbyists, were able to bring the message to individual congressman and sign up a record 168 co-sponsors. The professionalism, energy, and experience of these lobbyists were critical for the Asian Americans to understand the legislative process and how to get its voice heard.
Groups as diverse as the College Shiks to Korean American dentists to Filipinos of Florida joined together on this issue. The work of international organizations such as Amnesty International and Polaris was also built upon and incorporated in the campaign. The issue was internationalized and recognized as more than an historical injustice between Korea and Japan.
Most important, the issue had become appealing. The victimization of women during conflict and the transnational crime of human trafficking are bipartisan causes on Capitol Hill. They are the “new” human rights issues. A February 15th hearing at the Asia, Pacific and Global Environment Subcommittee featuring three former Comfort Women — two Korean and one Dutch — provided an all too vivid picture of what it was like to be a sex slave for Imperial Japan. Their accounts of their rape echoed ones of those in contemporary Rwanda, Bosnia, and Burma. Their ordeal in Imperial Japan’s state-sponsored system of rape camps resembled the degradations suffering by current victims of human trafficking.
In addition, the Congress believes in the importance of the U.S. Japan alliance to help maintain stability in East Asia. With a wary eye on a rising China and a newly nuclear North Korea, both sides of the aisle doubted Bush Administration abilities to keep the regional peace. During Bush’s watch, China’s influence expanded in Asia and its military budget expanded; North Korea acquired the bomb, South Korea leaned toward China, and Pacific maritime threats grew. In this fast changing environment remained old historic injustices that continued to keep our allies distant and wary of cooperating with Japan.
To address security in Asia, to counter a rising China and a nuclear North Korea, the only option the White House offered was a closer alliance with Japan, a country that had a constitutional restriction against active military cooperation and a poor history with its neighbors, especially China and Korea. To remilitarize Japan, the Administration allied itself with political forces in Japan that not only believed in a closer U.S.-Japan alliance, a strong Japanese military, and constitutional change, but also in a host of retrogressive notions of what it means to be Japanese, not the least being that the Pacific War was one of liberation against white colonialism.
Last September, Shinzo Abe became prime minister pledging to boost Japan’s global security profile and rewrite its pacifist constitution. Those changes were welcome and encouraged by the Bush White House, who hoped to shape Japan into America’s closest ally. This emphasis, however, ignored both the opinions of the Japanese people who did not put a priority on foreign affairs and the realities of unresolved historical injustices that perpetuated tensions between other US allies in the region and Japan. Abe’s conservative nationalist agenda, while presenting a picture of a tough, prideful, even prickly Japan, also excite regional suspicions and hindered regional security cooperation.
Essentially, Japan as the linchpin of Asian regional security was a quick fix that clashed with the growing importance of issues of human dignity and social justice in global foreign relations. The lessons of Iraq, Darfur, Bosnia and countless other contemporary conflicts demonstrated that “hard” and “soft” power could not be separated. And in Asia, it seems that the history issues need to be resolved before security could be advanced. Thus the Comfort Woman resolution resonates with many members of Congress in several different ways.
On June 26, members of the House Foreign Relations Committee voted 39-2 to approve the resolution. No one disputed the facts that Japan had never officially apologized to the women (and men) that Imperial Japan enslaved them to work in its frontline brothels. The few congressional objections centered on whether it was a job of the U.S. Congress to question of policies of another country. Japan’s massive, multi-million dollar lobbying to defeat the resolution’s passage focused on an interpretation of the “facts.”
These facts depended upon the source: the Embassy focused on the number of unofficial apologies, and the conservative Japanese groups, who on June 14 took an ad in the Washington Post, calling the Comfort Women paid prostitutes and chastising Congress for not having the “facts.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos (D-CA) said at the Committee vote, “The true strength of a nation is tested when it is forced to confront the darkest chapters in its history. Will it have the courage to face up to the truth of its past, or will it hide from those truths in the desperate and foolish hope they will fade with time?” And House Speaker Pelosi responded to the vote by issuing an unprecedented Press Release supporting the resolution and saying, “They [the Comfort Women] have waited far too long [for an apology], but it is not too late to recognize their courage.”
Reconciliation and regional peace in Asia are at the heart of Mr. Honda’s resolution. Long overdue justice and respect for the Comfort Women are one of the elements needed to achieve this peace. There was wide, bipartisan support for H.Res.121 in Congress.
The resolution projects U.S. leadership and attention to the important–but currently unresolved–issues dividing America’s Asian allies and exacerbating differences between countries in Asia. It is also good for our very close ally Japan, as its government seeks long-overdue recognition of Japan’s 60-year history of constructive, responsible and resolutely peaceful membership in the modern world community.
– Mindy Kotler

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