Sunday, July 15, 2012

Undermining National Honor

Ryoichi Sasakawa
father of Yohei and
founder of Nippon Foundation
Over the past few months, the Government of Japan has pursued a policy of denying that Imperial Japan's military was involved in the development and management of the Comfort Women system throughout their Empire. This effort has surprised and angered American officials. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, an ardent advocate of women's rights, has asked her staff to call the Comfort Women what they were: "sex slaves."

Although the 1993 Kono Statement, which is put forth as the semi-official Japanese Government apology to the Comfort Women, clearly notes government involvement, the Administration of Prime Minister Noda appears to be disputing its conclusion. Noda's government is anxious about recent Korean and Korean American efforts to honor the Comfort Women and to elevate the issue as an example of Japan's amoral nature.

Further, many members of Japan's private sector believe that the Kono Statement was inaccurate and the Comfort Women were merely paid prostitutes. The subject is a prominent advocacy issue for leading conservative organizations in Japan such as Nippon Kaigi (Japan Conference).

In late June, the head of Japan's largest and most powerful group of foundations, Yohei Sasakawa, issued an op ed in the Sankei Shimbun condemning the Kono Statement and urging his peers to speak out against the Comfort Women. The Sasakawa family of foundations includes, the Nippon Foundation, Tokyo Foundation, Sasakawa Peace Foundation, US-Japan Foundation, Ocean Policy Research Foundation, and Shipbuilding Foundation. These foundations are the major, if not the sole funders of American researchers and think tanks that work on Japan issues. The op ed is a warning to them.

Below we provide a provisional translation for the scholarly community. We welcome suggestions to improve it.

A Sound Argument: Be Sensitive to National Honor and Dignity

By Nippon Foundation President, Yohei Sasakawa

Sankei Shimbun, June 21, 2012

Japanese tend to consider being reserved in expressing an opinion a desirable quality. This comes from their traditional spirit that respects harmony. I think this is a great virtue of the Japanese culture. But weak self-assertiveness is becoming one of the biggest obstacles to Japan for its international relations.

The Comfort Women issue between Japan and Korea poses one such example. Japan’s arguments are frustratingly weak against Korea’s aggressive assertions about the Comfort Women. History issues form the basis of a country. Future generation will have to carry the Comfort Women issue as a “negative legacy” if we do nothing today. Japan did not abandon its national dignity when it lost World War II. The Japanese government and politicians must be more sensitive to our national honor and dignity. They must say what they have to say. Such an attitude is what will lead to Japan-Korea friendship.

History Issues Form the Basis of a Country

Korean residents that occupy more than half of the population in Palisades Park, New Jersey built a monument commemorating comfort women tragedy. About the same time, a similar monument appeared on the street right in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. President Lee Myung-bak mentioned at a meeting with Prime Minister Noda that Japan had to prioritize the Comfort Women issue. President Lee said, “Japanese will see second, third, and more monuments if Japan does not take any sincere measures.” This can be considered “blackmail.”

Last month, Japanese consulate-general in New York and four Japanese Diet members visited Palisades Park and asked the city mayor to remove the monument. The mayor denied their request. The Korean media reported “Japan’s huge embarrassment.” Twenty-two other U.S. cities have movements to build a similar monument.

The monument in the U.S. states, “the Japanese Imperial military abducted 200,000 women and girls and forced them to serve as Comfort Women.” Prime Minister Noda answered a question in an Upper House Budget Committee that this “is far from the truth.” If the Japanese ignore this issue, it might become a historical fact. Correct history does not derive from an awkward relationship in which one makes an assertion and the other keeps silence.

When the U.S. House International Relations Committee adopted the resolution condemning Japan in the summer of 2007, I visited Senator Daniel Inouye’s office in Washington, DC. Senator Inouye opposed the resolution as a Senator. He pointed out that the Chinese and Korean public and private entities conducted public relations campaigns to influence American lawmakers and media. He said, “Japan is too quiet. Silence is not a good strategy in the United States.” There is also a massive Korean campaign requesting a change from “Sea of Japan” to “East Sea.”

Non-Existence of Public Diplomacy

When I visit foreign countries, there were many occasions where the heads of states told me that Japan’s public diplomacy is non-existent and that “Japan’s face is invisible.” Even if this is not the case, the Japan-Korea relationship remains particularly difficult. Japan’s overly apologetic feelings and unnecessary thoughtfulness toward the counterpart have partially contributed to the awkward Japan-Korea relationship. President Lee’s comments seem to be an unwilling choice forced by an increasing anti-Japan sentiment rather than a strategy to regain his approval rating

The first cause of this situation can be attributed to 1993 Kono Danwa (Statement). Yohei Kono served as Chief Cabinet Secretary under the Miyazawa administration. In the statement, Kono admitted to the use of force by the Japanese imperial military despite the lack of direct evidence from 230 official documents collected by the Japanese government. The statement shook the Japanese position that Japan had settled the compensation and reparation issues with the 1965 Japan-Korea Basic Relations Treaty.

After the Kono Danwa, the Koreans escalated their demands. The Japanese government repeated an apology and made repentance when there were opportunities. Even after DPJ came to power, they repeated the same mistake. DPJ ministers said such things as, “it is important for each side to exercise wisdom and overcome issues step-by-step” or “many foreigners would hold Japan credible if we tackle on the Comfort Women and post-war compensation issue.”

President Lee used the phrase “strong ties between the two countries” at the summit meeting in Beijing this May. However, we cannot have a meaningful Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) or General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) without clarifying the history issue. I also think that sticking to the “past with Japan” does not give Korea a positive prospect: now that Korea has grown into an economic giant.

The Koreans use the Comfort Women issue as a political weapon, on and off like a whale’s blowhole. It prevented the two countries from building mutual trust. The international community also closely watches how the two countries will solve this issue. Both countries must have a transparent, honest dialogue. If the Kono Danwa lacks verification, Japan should retract it without fear. If Japan would like to request the removal of the monuments, it should do so without reservation. Also, Japan should emphasize more its contribution to Korea’s economic development after the war.

Time for Japan to Step Forward

Repeating wishful thinking and speaking without a concrete strategy will fuel Korea’s anti-Japan sentiment. Besides, Japanese antipathy against Korea will deepen behind the boom of Korean culture in Japan. The relationship with neighboring countries should not be a house of cards.

This is the time for Japan to step up. Because the history issues form the basis of a country, Japan should articulate with national dignity its views and arguments. Otherwise, both sides will not find any compromise, and situation will remain the same. I hope the politicians will have courage and determination on this issue.

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