America urges Japan to make an official apology to the “comfort women”
Tokyo (AsiaNews) – It is difficult to see it becoming an issue during the pre election campaign which has just begun, but immediately after the July 28th vote, the Tokyo government will have to face a US parliament resolution which asks Japan to officially apologise to the thousands of Asian women who were sexually exploited by the Imperial army, the so called “comfort women”.
A resolution was indeed approved June 26 by the House Commission for foreign affairs by an overwhelming majority (39 to 2) and now will be presented within a month to the House for approval, which is almost guaranteed.
The motion is paradoxical for two separate reasons. Firstly because its promoter is Democrat, Michael Honda, of Japanese origins. When he presented the bill (January) he immediately clarified that his aim was not to lack respect for the country or people of his ancestors, but to stimulate it to better itself. Secondly because, while it is not obligatory, it places the Japanese government before a moral choice it cannot afford to ignore.
After the motion was carried, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said.: “I look forward to the House of Representatives passing this resolution and sending a strong message that we will not forget the horrors endured by the comfort women. They have waited far too long, but it is not too late to recognize their courage”. Tom Lantos, Commission chief, as he introduced the motion voiced his concern that the Japan of today be distinguished from it’s problematic past. “The Government of Japan's unwillingness to offer a formal and unequivocal apology to the women forced to be sexual slaves in World War II – he said - stands in stark contrast to its role in the world today.”
The Tokyo government along with politicians from the far right nationalist groups in Japan, aware of the influence of such a motion on international opinion, did their utmost to impede and obstruct its passage. In April the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during his official visit to the United States, during a meeting with US congressmen repeated his position on the issue which coincides with Kono’s 1993 declaration: the government recognises the army’s involvement and apologises to the victims. This explanation was insufficient.
The initiative however, has not had its desired effect, a full page insert carried by the Washington Post by Japanese figures of importance. There it can be read among other things that the “comfort women”, “worked in the context of authorized prostitution, as is commonly seen in many other parts of the world”. Referring then to the unfortunate Lantos statement its describes it as “a completely ridiculous affirmation, contrary to the facts”. Pelosi while recognising that “Japan is an esteemed friend and ally”, urged the government to “do more (on a moral level). The Japanese have waited for far too long (for a satisfactory apology) but it is never too late to recognise their courage”. The approval provoked an out cry in Japan with a myriad of contrasting reactions.
The government has taken on an apparently neutral position. For Cabinet under secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki, “it is not appropriate for the government to comment on initiatives of a foreign legislature”. Premier Abe was less diplomatic; who while reaffirming his secretaries comments did not hold back on voicing his displeasure saying: “A great number of resolutions have been passed by Congress and I think that his is merely one of many”. As if to say the quantity of resolutions devalues their importance! A diplomatic error that is not his first.
A group of Japanese parliamentarians belonging both to the Liberal Democrats, Abe’s party, and to the Japanese Democrat Party, (opposition) said that the motion “was not based on facts and that it throws a shadow over the future of US-Japan relations”.
The declarations of Japan Action Work, an umbrella group which gathers together 15 organisations in favour of the ex “comfort women”, were in stark contrast. Spokesperson Yoko Shiba described the initiative as a step forward towards a concrete solution. “Official and unequivocal apology from the Japanese government means restoring these women their dignity”.
The South Korean media expressed their satisfaction. The editor of The Korean Herald notes the horrible atrocities which took place across the region during the terrible period. “Either way – he writes – the Germans apologised for the Holocaust and took on their responsibility. It is also true that during the war the American government put all Japanese citizens into war camps. But in 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed a law officially apologising to them and offering them compensation”.
Japan is being asked to find the moral courage to heal a wound that is still bleeding. The tactic of putting it off is no longer possible.