U.S. gov’t holds talks on 'comfort women'

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U.S. gov’t holds talks on 'comfort women'

The U.S. State Department held a rare meeting with women’s rights activists from Japan and Taiwan who asked for Washington’s help in encouraging Tokyo to take responsibility for its military’s wartime sexual slavery, according to diplomatic sources.

Activists including Mina Watanabe, secretary general of the Tokyo-based Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, and Kang Shu-hua, executive director of Taipei Women’s Rescue Foundation, met with State Department officials on Friday in Washington.

The closed-door talks on the so-called comfort women issue were interpreted by observers as a significant gesture, especially as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to visit the United States in the spring and may address Congress for the first time.

Longtime advocates against sexual violence and trafficking of women in Asia, Watanabe and Kang on Thursday spoke at a seminar at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington on “Understanding Sexual Violence in Conflict: Regional Views of the Comfort Women Legacy.”

Watanabe underscored that Japanese Prime Minister Abe has never used the word “apology” in addressing the issue of the Japanese military’s coercion of women into sexual slavery during World War II.

Rather, Abe chose the term “deeply pained” when addressing the issue of comfort women, an expression that is not acceptable for a “perpetrator nation,” Watanabe said. Previous administrations in Japan expressed “sincere apologies and remorse” to the former so-called comfort women.

“This year in the 70th anniversary of the end of [World War II], Abe may make some statement,” Watanabe continued, “and we can presume that something can be missing from his statement.”

Watanabe expressed concern about Abe’s historical revisionist views and the Japanese government’s efforts to remove mentions of the comfort women issue from domestic middle school textbooks as well as from U.S. high school textbooks.

She said Japanese civic groups on June 2, 2014, submitted to the government more than 529 official documents, or some 2,500 pages, found by scholars in the 20 years since the 1993 Kono Statement.

“However, the government refused to recognize the piles of documents as evidence that reinforces the systematic and active involvement of the government and the military in the sexual slavery practices,” she added.

Kang, who is preparing to build a women’s rights museum in memory of Taiwanese comfort women, also requested Japan stop distorting historical facts and take legal responsibility for the sexual slavery.

Last August, White House and State Department officials held closed-door talks on the sexual slavery issue with Korean activists and victims Lee Ok-sun and Kang Il-chul.

On Thursday, Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, encouraged the United States to apply more “ambition and ingenuity” to tackling frayed bilateral relations between Seoul and Tokyo. In a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Campbell, among other American experts on Asia, said that the United States should show a higher level of political commitment to bringing Korea and Japan together.

Japan has budgeted some $15 million to fund Japan studies at nine overseas universities, including Georgetown and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported Reuters, a move which is seen as the Abe government’s attempt to counter China and Korea with soft diplomacy efforts in the U.S. Korea and Japan will hold their seventh round of official talks on the comfort women issue on Monday in Seoul.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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