Remember the Kono StatementExactly two decades have passed since the Japanese government officially admitted to its systematic sexual enslavement of thousands of girls recruited from Korea and other neighboring countries during World War II. Then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a statement acknowledging administrative and military involvement and offered “serious apologies and remorse” for the immeasurable pain that past Japanese authorities inflicted. The statement set the platform for Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 apology for Japan’s past military aggression and excesses.
But the clock has turned backwards in Tokyo. Since nationalist Shinzo Abe became prime minister last year, Japan has turned decisively to the right. After the government drew the attention and support of the people in its drive to revive the economy, it also accelerated campaigns to justify the country’s history and rewrite its pacifist constitution.
The nationalists have long ridiculed their countrymen for being self-deprecating in apologizing for Japan’s past. Calls to disparage and repudiate the Kono statement gained momentum after a private group of Korean-Americans won the right to erect a statue commemorating the pain of the “comfort women” in Glendale, California, similar to the one sitting in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
Tokyo is out to renounce a government stance that officially acknowledged the role of the Japanese imperial Army in running so-called comfort stations. How is this possible? The comfort women issue should not be hijacked by politics. The United Nations and the global community all regard it as a humanitarian issue.
The Abe cabinet’s campaign to rewrite the constitution is also irking its neighbors. It wants to revise the pacifist charter from its post-war constitution. Deputy prime minister and finance minister Taro Aso shockingly cited the surreptitious way of the Nazi regime - which revised the German constitution and allowed Adolf Hitler to consolidate power - as a model for its own constitutional reform.
Seoul-Tokyo bilateral relations are vital for regional peace. But Japan is unnecessarily raising tensions with its neighbors over history issues. Extreme Japanese rightists often ask how many times they have to apologize. But they do so because they are oblivious to history and lack understanding of human nature. History must be clearly looked at and amends should be made. Otherwise, mistakes can be repeated. Japan must open its eyes and look straight into its history. That’s the message from the 20-year-old Kono statement.