Abe’s dangerous game

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Abe’s dangerous game

The Japanese government is taking formal steps to re-examine a statement acknowledging the operation of military brothels that forced sexual slavery on Asian women recruited mostly from Korea during World War II.

In August 1993, the Tokyo government issued a statement on one of the most incendiary historical spats between Japan and other Asian countries in the name of then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono after extensive study of the issue. It concluded that the Japanese military was “directly or indirectly” involved in running so-called comfort stations and women were recruited “against their own will through coaxing and coercion.” It then offered “sincere apologies and remorse” to those who suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds.

During parliamentary questioning on Feb. 20, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will re-examine the testimonies of the victims, euphemistically known as comfort women, who were the basis of the 1993 statement. The statement, drawn up after a three-year investigation and interviews with 16 comfort women in South Korea, requires “further review on the academic level,” said Suga. His comment came after Japanese leader Shinzo Abe - who in 2007, during a previous term as prime minister, had insisted there was “no proof” of coercion and involvement of the military in recruiting the women - said in a recent Diet meeting that the international accusations about comfort women was “serious slander” against the Japanese government. Abe said he plans to come up with a defense based on factual evidence to refute wrongful claims on the issue.

Critics mostly from the far right claim that there is no documented proof and the testimonies are ambiguous. The nationalistic Japan Restoration Party declared it will launch a popular campaign to revise the Kono Statement. But it is outrageous that the government plans to ride on the extreme rightist movement and deny a formal study and statement by the government. It says it will bring in specialists to question victims about the crimes against humanity it had committed. Together with the Murayama Statement, which first acknowledged and apologized for invasions and colonization, the Kono Statement has been pivotal in buttressing Korea-Japan relations. Abe wants to break the pillars that have sustained bilateral relations. The contradictory prime minister who despite his nationalistic agenda maintains he respects earlier historical views is pushing the stakes too high and must check himself before he ruins the Korea-Japan relationship beyond repair.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 30

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