The Liberal Democratic Party has submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a written proposal to restore Japan’s honour and trust by eradicating misperceptions overseas about the so-called comfort women issue. The ruling party’s proposal calls on the government to make forthright counterarguments to groundless criticism of Japan on this issue, and to provide accurate information to relevant parties through various channels.
Abe said he will take this proposal “seriously”. The content of the proposal must be swiftly and appropriately reflected in government policies. A reference to comfort women in a textbook for US high schools says the Japanese military “forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as 200,000 women aged 14 to 20”. The Japanese government lodged a protest with the publisher, but the exaggerated number and inaccurate description contained in this passage remain uncorrected. The distorted expression “sexual slavery” has been frequently used when referring to the comfort women, including in the US House of Representatives resolution that criticised Japan over the issue. Unless something is done, this erroneous perception will spread and it could tacitly emerge as an accomplished fact.
A key factor behind the LDP proposal was the Asahi Shimbun’s admission in August 2014 that remarks by Seiji Yoshida, who claimed to have forcibly taken away South Korean women to make them serve as comfort women – comments that the Asahi reported – were untrue. The proposal says the Asahi’s responsibility is irreversibly heavy because the daily newspaper continued fabrications in its articles for 32 years without thoroughly verifying Yoshida’s comments.
The proposal also touched on the Kono statement, a statement issued in 1993 under the name of then chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono. At a press conference after the statement was issued, Kono said it was “true” that women had been forcibly taken away. The proposal points out that it is “a major problem”.
The statement itself was crafted from an understanding that it could not be confirmed that women had been forcibly taken away. However, the proposal says that Kono’s remarks helped spread around the world the mistaken perception that women were apparently forcibly taken away.
Kono later served as LDP president and speaker of the House of Representatives. The LDP’s view on Kono has been extraordinary.
The government needs to harbour a strong sense of crisis and work hard on an overseas information strategy for the comfort women issue. It must keep in mind that any misstep in how its counter-arguments are presented could create the misunderstanding that Japan thinks lightly of women’s human rights, which might trigger a backlash from the international community.
The proposal clearly states that “there is no room for argument that women were recruited by civilian agents to work and those women’s human rights and their dignity was impaired seriously”.
Counter-arguments based on this premise will certainly have more persuasive power.
The government’s position is that all wartime compensation issues have been legally resolved. Even so, it established the Asian Women’s Fund and paid atonement money and gave a letter of apology from the prime minister to 285 former comfort women, including those from South Korea.
The government should tell these facts to the world, and effectively provide information both domestically and abroad.