Tokyo must be sincere in atoningAmid mounting international criticism, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared on Friday that his administration will not revise a landmark apology made to comfort women who were forced to serve in Japan’s military brothels during World War II. President Park Geun-hye responded that it was “a relief,” raising hope for a possible breakthrough in strained ties between the two countries.
In a written response to the parliamentary committee, Abe said he was “deeply pained to think of the comfort women, who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering.” He added that his cabinet has no intention to review the Kono Statement, which was delivered by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993 after a two-year study in which Tokyo admitted that the women, primarily from Korea, were “recruited against their will through coaxing and coercion” with the involvement of military authorities. Abe, in his previous and latest term, repeatedly questioned the validity of the testimonies that had been the basis for the Kono Statement. Even if he has succumbed to Washington’s pressure to improve ties with Seoul, it is the first positive development from his right-wing government.
The sincerity behind Abe’s statement remains questionable. He raised an uproar with Seoul by challenging a statement that has been upheld for decades and served pivotal in bilateral ties, but now he suddenly offers peace. The administration nevertheless said it will continue investigating the validity of the testimonies. So if it accepts and stands by the statement, why is it investigating? Abe and his administration must prove their sincerity if they genuinely respect the spirit of atonement.
This dubious maneuvering puts Seoul in an awkward situation. There is no definite win or defeat in a diplomatic conflict. Seoul cannot continue to ignore the pleas from Washington arguing for a staunch alliance among Korea, Japan and the United States to counter the rising influence of China.
The leaders of the three nations are scheduled to meet at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands next week. So statesmanship must stem from broad foresight and strategic thinking in both geopolitical and national interest contexts. The government should not aim to solve all history-related issues at one time. Few are convinced of the conciliatory gestures from Tokyo. But cold shoulders won’t help solve anything. If President Park is still uncomfortable about a tete-a-tete with her Japanese counterpart, she could consider a tripartite meeting by including President Obama in The Hague. But it would be unwise for Seoul and Tokyo to waste a good opportunity to break the ice.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 17, Page 30