Grow a conscience

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Grow a conscience

The Wednesday meeting in Seoul between two high-ranking diplomats representing Korea and Japan ended in sheer disappointment. The three-hour encounter between Korean First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Cho Tae-yong and his Japanese counterpart Akitaka Saiki led to nothing like a thaw in the ties that have been frozen over by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s alarming rightist turn. The meeting splashed cold water on any glimmer of hope we have had on the issue of apologies to the women forced into sexual slavery during World War II. Local media and academic circles cast serious doubts on why Saiki bothered to come to Korea.

The Abe government takes a contradictory position: While professing to follow in the footsteps of past Japanese governments on the recognition of history - as seen in the Kono Statement, which admitted the government’s intervention in recruiting sex slaves for Japan’s Imperial Army during the war - the Abe cabinet acts differently. On the day of Saiki’s trip to Seoul, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary and Abe’s closest aide, reiterated Tokyo’s earlier position that there was no forced mobilization of the women on a governmental level. We are confused at Japan’s weird logic of saying it is “unwilling to revise the Kono Statement, while strictly scrutinizing it.” Tokyo wants to suggest as much fault with the statement as it can without actually saying so.

The forced recruiting of the so-called comfort women has been repeatedly proven through countless documents, including the trial records of Japanese war criminals. Disregarding the proven truth is utterly unconscionable behavior. Japanese intellectuals came forward to oppose the government’s misleading moves and kicked off a signature-gathering campaign led by 15 scholars, including Hirohumi Hayashi, a professor of politics at Kanto Gakuin University, to maintain and develop the Kono Statement. More than 1,300 scholars have joined the movement. They not only resent Abe’s idea of “scrutinizing” the Kono Statement, but urge Tokyo to respect the statement and its spirit of contrition.

It is abnormal for the two neighbors not to have a leaders’ summit in the first year of the Park Geun-hye and Abe governments. Even the United States is expressing deep concerns about the tensions. But as long as Tokyo does not show any willingness to resolve the issue, improving ties is impossible. Japan’s request to have a summit without any strings attached ignores common diplomatic sense. Abe should listen to the voices of conscience of Japan’s intellectuals. If he wants to shake hands with Park, he should wash the blood off them first.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 14, Page 30

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