Japan dubs Kono apology a deal
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday announced the results of its controversial investigation of the statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono Japanese Imperial Army apologizing for the Japanese Imperial Army’s sexual enslavement of girls and women before and during World War II.
The conclusions by the investigative committee, which suggest the Kono Statement was a diplomatic agreement rather than a sincere apology based on evidence of misdeeds, is expected to sour already poor relations between Japan and Korea, as Japan is once again trying to deny wartime misdeeds.
Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato explained the results of the committee’s two-month investigation at a meeting of the Diet’s lower house budget committee yesterday afternoon.
The statement issued in August 1993 by Kono, who served in Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa’s administration, said, “The then-Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women.”
In the drafting of the Kono Statement, “there was intensive and detailed mediation with the Korean government,” concluded the panel.
The 21-page report on the “details of the Japan-Korea negotiation on the comfort women issue,” says that before the announcement of the Kono apology, Korean officials asked to revise the statement.
The report further states that Seoul indicated that if Japan did not comply with the revisions, it would not accept the Kono apology in a positive way.
The Kono Statement describes, “Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day.” Japan’s initial draft of the statement didn’t specify military authorities but, instead, “private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military,” according to the report.
The report also said that Korea tampered with the language in the sentence: “The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion.”
It also disclosed that the two countries emphasized keeping the negotiations secret. They agreed not to reveal to the media that the draft had been fine-tuned by the two parties. Seoul also agreed to state publicly that Korea received a fax of the statement before its announcement.
In terms of the investigation of the histories of 16 Korean victims of sexual slavery, the report said that rather than to confirm facts, that was merely to show Japan’s sincerity in the probe.
It added that those testimonies were not confirmed by other testimonies.
The investigation of the process that went into the Kono statement and its conclusion basically paints the apology as the result of a political negotiation rather than an admission of historical fact. The conclusion was more strongly worded than Seoul anticipated.
The Korean government criticized the report and told Japan once again that it must face up to its historical misdeeds with sincerity.
“The act of re-examining the Kono statement is … meaningless and unnecessary,” the Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday.
It added that the Japanese investigation “is not meant to reveal the truth of the comfort women problem and damages the credibility of the Kono Statement.”
It emphasized that the testimony of the 16 victims should be respected.
The Kono Statement and Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 apology for Japan’s wartime aggressions have been considered by Korea pillars of bilateral relations. The Abe administration seems determined to shake or destroy one of those pillars.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said to reporters after the report was released, “The Japanese government’s position that the Kono Statement will not be revised has not changed.”
Analysts point out that the act of re-examining the Kono Statement is a denial of the apology to the comfort women.
In February, the Abe government launched a probe to “re-examine” the process that led to the 1993 apology.
Ahead of this announcement, Nobuo Ishihara, former deputy chief cabinet secretary under Miyazawa, made statements in the Japanese parliament in February that suggested that the Kono Statement may have been the result of a backroom political agreement between Seoul and Tokyo.
The Japanese government appointed five independent legal and media experts to do the study.
Abe has made remarks that seemed to directly challenge the Kono Statement in the past, but in March he announced for the first time that he plans to stand by the Kono Statement. Yet that statement was considered a concession made so that President Park Geun-hye would agree to a trilateral summit in The Hague later that month with Washington and Tokyo.
In Seoul, politicians were prepared for disappointment earlier yesterday.
Ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker Hong Il-pyo said, “If the Japanese government’s review is damaging to the Kono Statement, this can only be seen as Japanese right-wingers declaring they want to wage war on history, and not just against Korea but the entire international community.”
Opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy co-leader Kim Han-gill said yesterday ahead of the announcement: “We cannot help but see this as the ultimate attempt to deny the forced recruitment of comfort women. This is dangerous political thinking that can destroy Korea-Japan relations.”
The two countries are set to hold their third round of bilateral director-general level talks on the comfort women issue in Seoul later this month.
BY SARAH KIM, SEO SEUNG-WOOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]