U.S. report decries Abe’s actions

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U.S. report decries Abe’s actions

As Japan’s Shinzo Abe government tones down rhetoric seemingly denying parts of Japan’s past war aggressions after international criticism, the latest United States congressional report said Tokyo’s stance on historical issues with its Asian neighbors may “hurt U.S. interests.”

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a policy think tank of the U.S. Congress, released on May 1 its “Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress” report which stated, “Comments and actions on controversial historical issues by Prime Minister Abe and his cabinet have raised concern that Tokyo could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests.”

While the report called Japan “a significant partner for the United States,” especially in light of Chinese military modernization and threats from North Korea, it pointed out that in recent years, “opposition control of one chamber of parliament has paralyzed policy making in Tokyo and made U.S.-Japan relations difficult to manage, despite overall shared national interests.”

The report was critical of Abe’s approach to key sensitive issues to Seoul and other victims of Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule, such that as the so-called “comfort women,” or Asian women forced to serve as sex slaves to the Japanese military during World War II, history textbooks and government officials’ visits to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates war dead and war criminals alike.

How Abe tackles those issues, as well as “statements on a territorial dispute with South Korea,” referring to the Dokdo islets, called Takeshima by Japan, will be “closely monitored” both by the U.S. and Japan’s neighbors, according to the report.

Most significantly, said the CRS, the U.S. may in the future become involved in a military conflict between Tokyo and Beijing over the disputed islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China, adding urgency to the tension in Northeast Asia.

The report called Prime Minister Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party, who won a landslide victory in December, “a strong nationalist,” but that he was “unlikely to pursue controversial initiatives” before the Diet’s upper house, the House of Councillors, election scheduled for July.

“In the past, the U.S. has taken a hands-off approach, or a middle-ground approach, between Japan and Korea because once they start taking a stance on this issue, they’re jeopardizing the alliance they have with either of these countries,” said James Kim, director for the Center for American Politics and Policy at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

“The CRS is a think tank, or research arm of Congress. When they recommend it to Congress, it is exactly as it reads,” Kim said. “But in terms of how Congress reads this or what sort of recommendations or policy actions it takes, if any at all, is a different matter.”

A week after the report, Prime Minister Abe signed a parliamentary document on Tuesday that acknowledged that Japan had conducted only a limited investigation before claiming there was no official evidence that its military coerced Asian women into sexual slavery during World War II.

The statement recognized that the Japanese government withheld documents containing testimony by Japanese soldiers that they abducted Chinese women for the military as sex slaves. This evidence produced from a postwar international military tribunal was not reflected in the investigation conducted between 1991-93, the only of its kind.

Abe has steadfastly contested that the comfort women were indeed coerced by the Japanese imperial military and upon his December election proposed a review of the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who apologized for the damage caused by the Japanese government recruiting Asian women to serve as sex slaves for its military after government investigation into the issue.

Abe also questioned the definition of “aggression” by Japan before and during World War II.

President Park Geun-hye in her first address to the U.S. Congress in Washington Wednesday, without naming Japan, said, “those who are blind to the past cannot see the future” and also conveyed in the summit with Obama Tuesday that Japan needs to correct its historical perception.

The Japanese government this week has backpedaled on Abe’s challenges to past apologies, emphasizing that Japan will uphold the 1993 Kono statement.

“The correct perception of history is indeed very simply: acknowledge one’s faults and act accordingly,” said Cho Tai-young, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman yesterday. “Why the same questions recur over and over again is something that Japanese leaders have to ponder.”

By Sarah Kim [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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