Japan slammed for wartime past

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Japan slammed for wartime past

A U.S. lawmaker publicly demanded last week during a congressional plenary session that Japan admit to its military’s forceful recruitment of women into sexual slavery during World War II, an issue that has become a point of contention between Korea and its neighbor.

Rep. Ted Poe criticized the Japanese government on Thursday for its “inconsistent” message on the historical dispute between Seoul and Tokyo.

“It is time for Japan to own up to its actions,” Poe, a Republican representative from Texas, said while addressing the lower house, according to U.S. congressional records on Friday. “Covering these atrocities behind a smoke screen will not change the truth.”

Poe also referred to the Shinzo Abe administration’s recent move to set up a governmental panel to “re-examine” the landmark 1993 apology by Chief Cabinet Minister Yohei Kono, which acknowledged that the women were forcefully mobilized to Japanese comfort stations by the military. The victims are euphemistically referred to as “comfort women.”

Abe’s investigative panel concluded on June 20 that the Kono Statement was the result of political dealings between the governments of Korea and Japan and said there was not enough evidence proving that the victims were lured or forcefully recruited.

The report was immediately condemned by Korea and international voices as a move to undermine the validity of the 1993 Kono Statement, though the Abe administration has declared it plans to uphold it.

The U.S. congressman pointed out that in the Kono Statement, the Japanese government “finally confessed to forcing women to work in military-run brothels.” He also reminded Tokyo to “accurately report the history regarding this tragedy.”

Poe, a founder of the Congressional Victims’ Rights Caucus, comprised of a bipartisan group of more than 70 American congressmen, has been an active voice on the issue of comfort women in the United States.

The Republican representative was also a co-sponsor in 2007 of House Resolution 121, which demanded that the Japanese government formally apologize and accept historical responsibility for its military’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery.

He added that Tokyo’s apology to the few surviving victims “would help the diplomatic relationship between Japan and Korea.”

But rather than facing up to its history, Japanese right-wing groups have recently stepped up lobbying efforts in Washington to deny the allegations that comfort women were forcefully recruited.

Earlier this month, a right-wing Japanese group met with key American think tanks and Korea researchers, distributing material that implied that the victims were actually prostitutes.

The Japan Policy Institute leaflet, entitled “The Comfort Women Issue: A Review and the Facts and Common Misunderstandings,” asserts that the “cause for their recruitment was not force used by government authorities, but instead poverty, exacerbated by the intervention of private recruiters.”

It further goes on to attack Radhika Coomaraswamy’s 1996 report that was submitted to the UN Human Rights Commission and is now used as the basis for resolutions on the issue by many governments worldwide, including the United States and the European Union.

The English-language document, written by Tsutomu Nishioka, a Korea studies professor at Tokyo Christian University, asserts that the report was “formed on the fictional assumption of the forced recruitment of comfort women by government authorities.”

Even two decades later, Coomaraswamy sticks by her report. In an interview with Korean reporters last month, she demanded the Japanese government apologize to and compensate its victims.

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