[Viewpoint]Give these women comfortJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who had been walking a tightrope between cooperation with Asian countries and playing the role of spokesperson for Japanese conservatives, has lost his sense of balance, falling into the role of a right wing demagogue, disappointing the people of Asia and the world. With his recent statement about Korean women who were used as sex slaves by the Japanese imperial army during World War II, Mr. Abe showed that his words are no more reliable than dead leaves, which shift their position every time the wind changes direction.
When the U.S. House of Representatives asked Japan to “acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility” for the so-called “comfort women” issue, Prime Minister Abe returned to his previous position. He asserted, mendaciously, that there is no evidence to prove that the Japanese government or military authorities forced women into sexual slavery. Following this twisted logic, he said he could not make an official apology to the comfort women, and rejected the request of the U.S. Congress. The howls of protest that followed from the United States, Korea and China compelled Mr. Abe to tone down his remarks. Thus, last Friday, he endorsed the inadequate apology made by his predecessors.
Mr. Abe’s latest remark about the comfort women illustrates how the political calculations required of Japanese prime ministers make them a stranger to common sense. Mr. Abe has proclaimed that Japan has to have a more “assertive diplomacy” and has tried to speak on behalf of Japanese conservatives who say that Japan should wield its diplomatic clout more vigorously.
Hence Mr. Abe has chosen, sadly, to put the boot to the few surviving victims of Japanese sexual enslavement to show that he’s a real tough guy. It’s obvious that his obeisance before the altar of Japanese conservatism is a thinly veiled attempt to win support from that quarter in advance of the House of Councilors election in July. Furthermore, flying in the face of the facts, he wants to advance the position of Japanese conservatives in diplomatic responses to questions about Japan’s past history. It is, therefore, highly likely that the insipid apologetic remark he made last Friday was an attempt to cover his embarrassment at home and overseas.
Even in Japan, many people interpreted Mr. Abe’s statement as an attempt to “buy time” ahead of his visit to the United States at the end of March and the scheduled visit by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to Japan next month. If Chinese sentiment toward Japan worsens around the time of Wen Jiabao’s visit, Mr. Abe must fear that China-Japan relations, which he has boasted as one of his major accomplishments, would be damaged.
It’s also possible that he made his remark as a calculated attempt to dodge international criticism. If anti-Japanese sentiment grows in the U.S. because of the comfort women issue, it may have an adverse impact on U.S.-Japan relations.
Mr. Abe should realize that his attempt to curry favor among his domestic cronies by riding roughshod over the comfort women has led to harsh international criticism of Japan. In the U.S. Congress, even supporters of Japan have begun to demand that the Japanese government apologize.
The international reaction is a warning to Mr. Abe and Japan that Korean women who were used as sex slaves can not be exploited again as pawns in the game of politics.
In other words, the international community wants Japan to know that the comfort women issue is not about words. These brave women, and those who speak for them, will not be silenced by cowardly equivocations over the meaning of the word coercion and its “narrow sense.” International society has reminded Mr. Abe that a Japan reborn as “beautiful Japan” and able to carry out “assertive diplomacy” is possible only when Japan has the will to resolve past problems with sincerity.
We should also realize that cooperation with international society is vital in the stance we take on issues between Korea and Japan. Let us gather the evidence, muster arguments and, above all, let us get justice for some frail and aging women who deserve the “comfort” of a comprehensive apology.
*The writer is the director of the Sejong Institute Japan Center. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Jin Chang-soo