Japan’s rhetoric gets surly again

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Japan’s rhetoric gets surly again

Just a day after a supposedly conciliatory summit among the leaders of Korea, Japan and the United States in Europe, Japanese political leaders started stoking nationalistic sentiment and backpedalling on recent enlightened actions on the so-called comfort women, or Japan’s sex slaves during World War II.

On Wednesday afternoon, Japanese Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura said that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s vow this month to stand behind the Kono Statement, the 1993 apology to the comfort women, and the 1995 Murayama Statement apologizing for wartime aggressions “is not a unified government position.”

Shimomura made the remarks while discussing revisions to school history textbooks at a meeting of the lower house of the Japanese Diet, the Asahi Shimbun reported yesterday.

Also on Wednesday, conservative Japanese politician Shintaro Ishihara, a former Tokyo mayor and a member of the Diet, made remarks at a press conference with foreign correspondents in Tokyo that justified Japan’s colonization of Korea from 1910-45.

“While [Japanese colonization of Korea] may be an indignity from the perspective of the Korean people,” Ishihara told reporters, “it was necessary for the self-preservation of Japan at that time based on the situation in Asia.”

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as ruling and opposition parties, lambasted the political leaders and worried that their remarks signified an immediate volte face in Japan’s attitude following the three-way summit held Tuesday in The Hague among Abe, Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Tuesday’s summit represented the first real meeting of Park and Abe, which was basically brokered by Obama. Park had refused appeals by Tokyo to hold a summit with Abe because of his administration’s inflammatory statements and actions over territorial disputes and issues such as an official apology and compensation for the comfort women.

The short three-way summit focused on the North Korea nuclear issue and did not discuss the historical or territorial issues dividing Korea and Japan. But analysts were watching to see if it would lead to a genuine thaw in the frosty relations between the two Asian neighbors.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young criticized Shimomura’s statements, calling them “extremely undesirable remarks” coming from an education minister who is “responsible for the teaching the correct understanding of history to the young generation.”

He called Ishihara’s remark “embarrassing” and “an example of how self-centered an individual may become.”

Cho added that the Korean government “takes into serious consideration” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks vowing not to revise past administrations’ statements of apology.

On March 14, Abe said at a budget committee of the parliament that he has “no plans to revise” the apology made in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono for the Japanese military’s forcing of women into sexual slavery in military brothels during World War II.

A week later, on March 21, Korea announced it had agreed to the three-way summit in The Hague.

Abe’s remark was welcomed by Park, although Seoul emphasized Japanese leaders have in the past shown a tendency to flip-flop between conciliatory and hurtful words and actions in regard to painful, unresolved issues such as its wartime colonization of Asian countries.

The ruling Saenuri Party spokeswoman Min Hyun-joo said yesterday, “Though less than a day has passed since the Korea-Japan-U.S. summit, which came about with much difficulty, high-level Japanese politicians again spew out absurd remarks .?.?. This could drive Korean and Japanese relations to a collapse.”

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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