Get facts straight on comfort women

The Yomiuri Shimbun Editorial

The U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee has adopted a resolution demanding an apology from Japan over the so-called comfort women. But the resolution was based on an erroneous perception of the facts.

The Japanese government should try to unravel the U.S. side's misinterpretation of history in order to remove a source of future trouble, while in the meantime working to block passage of the resolution by the full House of Representatives.

The resolution calls for the government to accept historical responsibility and apologize for "its Imperial Armed Forces' coercion of young women into sexual slavery." It describes "the comfort women system" as "one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century."

The resolution was made without verifying the facts and smacks of cheap rhetoric. It makes us doubt the intelligence of U.S. lawmakers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed "sympathy from the bottom of my heart" and said he "felt sorry" during his meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush and congressional leaders during his visit to Washington in April. The prime minister also said that the 20th century was a century of human rights violations and Japan was not totally blameless.

Abe's remarks did not postpone adoption of the resolution by the lower house committee.

The resolution is merely one of many adopted at the U.S. Congress. It does not have any legal binding force. Thus, some observers say Japan does not have to take it seriously.

Govt must dispute false charges
But this is the wrong conclusion to draw. If Japan refrains from making counterarguments, this erroneous historical view will become accepted as established fact.

Before World War II, there were many women who were put to work as comfort women against their will by parents and brokers. But this does not mean the Japanese military coerced the women.

In past studies, no evidence has been found showing "coercive recruitment of comfort women by military personnel or government officials." The government explicitly presented this observation in March in response to a question by an opposition lawmaker.

On what is the resolution based? Reportedly the 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono played a significant part.

The statement said that Japanese military and officials were "directly or indirectly involved in...the transfer of comfort women." Such wording apparently led to the misapprehension that there was coercive recruitment.

Kono apology politically driven
The 1993 statement was motivated by a political desire to deflect pressure from South Korea on the comfort women issue. And it has helped broaden the misunderstanding.

Apparently out of diplomatic consideration, Abe has said he stands by the Kono statement. But as long as the prime minister takes this position, the misunderstanding of coercive recruitment will never disappear. If the statement is found to be erroneous, it should be rewritten without hesitation.

In March, Foreign Minister Taro Aso referred to the lobbying in support of the resolution as an "operation to estrange Japan and the United States." Anti-Japan forces in the United States linked with Chinese and South Koreans have exercised their influence behind the scenes on behalf of the resolution.

If the matter is left unaddressed, further demands for apologies will be repeated. The government must methodically elucidate the historical truths involved in the issue.

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