Wednesday, August 21, 2019

In Memoriam Jan Ruff-O'Herne

Mrs. Jan Ruff-O'Herne died on Monday, August 19, 2019.

Jan was the Dutch Comfort Woman who traveled from her home in Australia to testify to a subcommittee of House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in February 2007 about how she was taken from her internment camp in 1944 on Java by Imperial Japanese Army officers for one of their brothels. Current research estimates that more than 1,000 Dutch, Indo-Dutch, and missionary women in the Japanese occupied Dutch East Indies were forced to be sex slaves to the Japanese military. This number does not include indigenous girls and women forced to become Comfort Women.

Jan was an extraordinarily brave and determined woman who was a civil rights icon and inspiration to women worldwide. Her daughter said that "a warrior has passed." Interview with Jan Ruff-O'Herne.

The 96-year-old International Peace Prize winner and decorated peace activist passed away peacefully surrounded by her family.

In 1992, after seeing on CNN the Bosnia rape victims and the Korean Comfort Women--sex slaves to the Japanese military--come forward to appeal for justice, Jan decided to finally tell her story of rape and survival.

She worked with the UN Human Rights Commission, International Red Cross, and Amnesty International, speaking in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the US and UK, the Netherlands and many other countries, sharing her incredible story.

Jan’s autobiography, Fifty Years of Silence, published by Random House has been translated into six different languages, including Japanese, Indonesia, Indian, Chinese and Korean.

A documentary film about Mrs Ruff O’Herne, "50 Years of Silence" won numerous accolades, including the 1995 Most Outstanding Documentary TV Logie, winner of the Australian Film Institute Awards, Best Documentary, winner of the 1995 EAC Dendy Awards, winner of the Best Film Non-Fiction, Asia Pacific Film Festival and winner World Film and TV Festival in Japan. Jan's granddaughter, Ruby Challenger, produced a short film, "Daily Bread," on her grandmother's internment.

Jan never believed that Japan had adequately apologized to the Comfort Women and refused to accept the "medical payments" offered by a private Japanese fund in the late-1990s. Of the hundreds of the then-recognized Comfort Women, only 78 men and women accepted these payments. Jan wanted an unequivocal government apology and atonement payment. She was disappointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's backtracking on Japan's limited apology.

Jan received an Order of Australia in 2002, a papal honour from Pope John Paul II, Dame Commander of the Order of Saint Sylvester in the same year and in 2004 received a Centenary medal from Prime Minister John Howard for contributions made to Australian society.

Requiescet in pace

The funeral is on Tuesday, August 27th at 11:00am at Our Lady of Dolours Church, Kingswood,  South Australia, Australia.

Monday, August 12, 2019

A New Opposition in Japan

Yamamoto Taro: New Prospects for Progressive Politics in Japan
Elections are coming up in Japan, and Shinzo Abe faces a challenge from the left

By Emanuel Pastreich, director of The Asia Institute 

First appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, July 16, 2019

The Shinzo Abe administration in Japan, and its promotion of militarism and racist attacks on Koreans and Chinese, might seem impossible to displace. But a counter current in Japanese politics is gaining momentum. It and has put in motion new political players who speak with a frankness and engage in politics with a passion that has not been seen since the 1970s.

One of the most impressive of this new generation, who is currently touring Tokyo to give speeches in the lead-up to the July 21 elections, is the charismatic and committed Taro Yamamoto .

A long-time critic of the government’s denial of environmental damage resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, he has openly advocated on behalf of the citizens of the region who suffer from high rates of cancer. Yamamoto made headlines when he handed the previous emperor, Akihito, a letter in 2013 describing the terrible health conditions of children living around the disabled nuclear plant and the workers involved in the cleanup. Mainstream politicians attacked him for trying to use the emperor for political purposes at a public event, and many demanded that he resign and that be barred from future such events.

Yamamoto’s willingness to talk about the details of daily life for those confronted with the fallout of the nuclear disaster – in spite of the virtual media blackout on the issue – won him a small but devoted base in Japan.

Yamamoto started his career as an actor and established himself as a “talent,” a popular figure who appears on late-night talk shows to discuss current affairs and culture in a lighthearted manner. He took up the anti-nuclear issue after the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor caused by the March 11, 2011 earthquake. To the detriment of his acting career, Yamamoto threw himself into activism, promoting renewable energy and working with those whose health was effected by the disaster.

He ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 2010 as an independent from the Eighth district of Tokyo. His platform included unconditional opposition to nuclear power and to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. He was successful, however, in 2013 when he ran for the House of Councilors with the support of multiple minor parties. There he established himself as one of the most assertive young politicians.

A New Party
Yamamoto broke his primary affiliation with Jiyuto (Freedom Party) in April 2019 and launched a new political coalition known as Reiwa Sinsengumi. The Reiwa Sinsengumi (Reiwa New Election Team) coalition has fielded multiple candidates for the current elections (including Yamamoto) and has taken forceful positions not found among other established opposition parties. For example, Reiwa Rinsengumi demands an immediate end to the regressive consumption tax (other opposition parties only ask that the rate not be raised), has openly opposed the construction of the Henoko Base in Okinawa, has demanded an immediate and unconditional end to nuclear power in Japan, and has proposed a 1500-yen-an-hour minimum wage.

Reiwa Sinsengumi has also been outspoken in its opposition to the broad security and terrorism laws passed in 2017 that include numerous “preventive” approaches that limit freedom of speech. Other opposition parties have moved on after the fight back in 2017 and for the most part have accepted the reality of limited freedoms in contemporary Japan.

Reiwa Sinsengumi has relied on funding from individual citizens and has a lean organization of volunteers who avoid the thick net of financial obligations that weigh down other political operations. Yamamoto held a series of open lectures around the country that helped him to amass 100 million yen for the party within one month of its founding. Reiwa Sinsengumi has also fielded unusual progressive candidates such as Yasumi Ayumi, a professor of economics at University of Tokyo.

Yo Kawanaka, a volunteer in Yamamoto’s campaign working at this Yotsuya office, spoke about her work calling up his supporters to gather funding. “I was impressed by the incredibly positive response I received from his previous donors when I called to ask for support for the current campaign,” she said. “The enthusiasm was palpable and support for the party was not a matter of old ties but of a new vision for what is possible.”

In addition to its opposition to nuclear power and the TPP, Reiwa Sinsengumi supports a guarantee that Japanese “will not go hungry.” This is a promise to provide all citizens with free education, free medicine, and free social services. This plank declares that citizens should “work to live, not live do work” and that the terrible psychological and physical abuses of overwork must end. The coalition also opposes the revision of the constitution, the use of the term of “collective security” to justify an enlarged military, and the development of nuclear weapons.

An Unusual Candidate
Yamamoto has tirelessly travelled around Tokyo giving speeches and focusing on the disadvantaged and the disabled. His speech on July 8th was particularly powerful. Yamamoto launched into his discussion in this manner:
I started my career in politics with the thought that “I want to live.” But there are so many people in this country who do not want even to live in this country these days. There are twenty thousand people a year who choose suicide. It would be 50,000 if you include all the attempted suicides. This country is clearly completely broken. What about you? Can you say with confidence that you are someone whom this society will allow to live? Do truly believe that you are something of great value in this society simply in that you are alive? If you are in trouble, do you have the confidence to call out for help?
Yamamoto combines a disarming and even humorous rhetoric in his speeches, which is combined with a logical and scientific analysis (addressing his audience as if it were capable of understanding complex issues). He also launches into trenchant critiques that go to the core of a dehumanized market economy.

Rather than rely on the traditional broad strokes of Japanese politicians, Yamamoto talks about the daily lives of ordinary Japanese who are completely ignored in the larger picture presented by the mainstream media. In his speech, Yamamoto describes a Japan made up of numerous ordinary citizens, young workers, single mothers, the disabled, and the elderly, all subject to the increasing pressures of a rapacious economic system. He does not try to pin the problems on Abe or any particular bogeyman but demands that the actual issues be addressed directly.

Yamamoto declares that the essential question is one of a profound correction of the system itself. He sets out his goal as creating a new political culture that can move beyond denial and address topics like poverty and pollution with honesty. As such, he represents a new potential in the political culture of Japan.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The emboldened nationalism of Japan and Korea

Will he or won't he
Is There Any End To The Japan-ROK Dispute? The Strategic Choices Being Made
Comparable to the deep freeze after then-prime minister Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine

By Dan Sneider, Stanford University lecturer, Asia Policy Point member, and associate editor of Washington’s Nelson Report, in which this article originally appeared on August 8, 2019 as well as in the Asia Times.

The accounts of the deepening disconnect between Japan and South Korea that are now making their way into the pages of major media actually underplay the destructive character of this current crisis. And they fail to explore the strategic choices being made, almost unconsciously, by the leadership in both countries.

The atmosphere in South Korea is particularly poisonous, egged on by the Moon Jae-in administration. The Korean media is filled with accounts of Japanese perfidy, fed by continuous commentary to the same effect from the government. Earlier this week, for example, the lead evening news broadcast on the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), the flagship TV network, spent the first 20 minutes focused entirely on Japan.

There is a widening movement to boycott Japanese goods that is already hurting sales of everything from beer to cars. Even conservative media that are somewhat critical of Moon’s handling of relations join in the broad narrative that paints all the current woes as the product of a dangerous nationalist Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is unrepentant about Japan’s colonial and wartime past.

Japanese media are far less breathless but the anti-Korean mood in Japan is undeniable. Opinion polls show about two thirds of Japanese back the tough response to Korea in the form of imposition of tighter controls on exports. While the liberal media call for restraint by Abe and tend to blame both sides for the crisis, conservative media and politicians are now happy to point fingers at the unreliable and provocative Koreans, urging the government to hold to an uncompromising position.

There are small signs that both sides may want to limit the damage being done, particularly in the economic realm. Japan’s trade minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters on Thursday that the government has granted permission for semiconductor materials to be exported for the first time since tightened controls were imposed last month.

In Seoul, Moon seemed to back off from his provocative suggestion that South Korea could compensate for the damage to the economy from the trade war with Japan by improving ties with the North. “In the end, it’s a game without any winner, in which everyone, including Japan, becomes a victim,” he told a meeting of economic advisers. The foreign ministers of both countries are now scheduled to meet again soon.

‘Far enough’

“I get the sense that both sides are trying to signal each other that things have gone far enough and that it’s time to try to stop making things worse,” says Evans Revere, former US principal deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific.

“Moon’s acknowledgement that both sides are being hurt, the fact that the ROK has not implemented their threat to take Japan off Korea’s white list, Japan’s decision to allow the export of sensitive materials to Korea under the new export review process and Abe’s call for Seoul to adhere to the 1965 normalization agreement seem to suggest that, at a minimum, the two sides are not threatening each other with new actions,” Revere says.

Other American analysts hope that the Japanese moves on export controls have a narrow intent. “The Japanese government doesn’t necessarily want to prevent trade with South Korea or prevent its companies from doing business with ROK firms, but Tokyo did want some additional control over the process,” says James Schoff of the Carnegie Endowment.

“The Abe administration wanted to downgrade South Korea’s ‘status’ as a partner in some way, to express its displeasure with a variety of moves the Moon government has made in the past year or two,” Schoff adds. “At a basic level I think Abe & Co simply don’t believe that South Korea belongs on a special list of its most trusted partners, and this is a way to make that point.”

This could be, as even both Schoff and Revere acknowledge, an overly optimistic reading. There are ample opportunities to escalate tensions. The Koreans are contemplating whether or not to renew the GSOMIA defense intelligence sharing agreement. Talking to reporters yesterday (August 7), Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga pointedly did not rule out a decision by Abe to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine to Japan’s war dead on August 15, the anniversary of the end of World War II.

If both sides refrain from taking further steps, that could at least limit the descent into full-scale conflict for now. “Both sides do not want to make things worse but neither side intends to take any action to improve the situation,” a well-informed Japanese analyst told me. “My guess is that the situation will be frozen at this current level of hostility for the time being.”

Strategic choices

The frozen nature of this conflict reflects underlying strategic choices that both Moon and Abe have made and which will continue to drive them apart. And more deeply, it is a consequence of the dramatic shift of American foreign policy under the nationalist Trump regime.

President Moon and his progressive government are clearly focused on inter-Korean integration over all other relations, and in that context playing the card of anti-Japanese nationalism serves to bind the two Koreas together. The opening created by President Trump’s diplomacy with North Korea is a historic opportunity that has “emboldened and tempted South Korean President Moon Jae-in to prioritize his inter-Korean agenda over ties with the US and Japan,” former Japanese senior diplomat Kuni Miyake wrote this week [in the Japan Times].

For the Japanese government, the rising threat from China has prompted two seemingly conflicting strategic decisions – to rely even more on the security alliance with the US, despite Trump’s disdain for alliances, and to calm, if not improve, relations with China. In that context, advisors to the prime minister see South Korea, particularly under the Moon administration, as almost irrelevant to Japanese foreign policy.

“About five years ago, when Abe was still fresh in his new administration, he told one of my colleagues that he intends to do something to improve the relationship with Beijing and also that, regarding Seoul, he will simply ignore it,” a senior Japanese editor at a major daily newspaper told me. “In Abe’s mind, China is important enough to invest political capital but Seoul is nothing but a pain in the ass that could harm his image as right-wing leader.”

The attitude of benign neglect toward Seoul prevailed even while Moon moved to dump the 2015 agreement to settle the comfort women issue, reached with the previous conservative Korean government of Park Geun-hye. But the escalations over the forced labor issue forced a harsher response.

“Abe has stepped into a new territory where the South Korea issue has become a high stakes game of either big loss or big win to keep his approval rate high,” the Japanese editor said. “All polls indicate that surprisingly a majority of Japanese people support this bullying action to Seoul and, if Abe puts down his fist without clear sign of win, he will lose too much.”

This is comparable to the period when former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine, sending relations with China and South Korea into the deep freeze. As happened in that case, it may take the end of both Japanese and Korean governments to reverse the situation.
Political calculation

“Abe has made the political calculation to address the new reality by maintaining a relationship with both Washington and Beijing, and at the same time managing his political base by playing tough against Seoul, but it is far from a reasoned strategy,” observes the veteran Japanese journalist. “Abe’s ultimate goal is to stay in power as long as possible, not to maximize the future interest of Japan by sensible diplomacy. Politicians are all prisoners of domestic populism lately and they are fanning populism to appeal to the fragmented sentiments of voters. Abe and Moon are sadly among them.”

This is clearly shaped by the America First stance of the Trump regime. Hopes that the US might intervene effectively to try to bring a halt to the spiraling dispute between its two main security allies in East Asia have proven exaggerated. While senior officials seemed prepared to push both sides toward a ceasefire, instead the messaging from those above them – from national security adviser John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary Mark Esper (now in the region) and the president himself – has communicated very different priorities.

Trump wants to pick a fight about how much money South Korea and Japan will contribute to cost-sharing arrangements for US forces based in both countries. Bolton, Pompeo and Esper are eager to drag both countries into the so-called coalition of the willing in the Persian Gulf against Iran. Both countries, especially Japan, are resistant to that siren song. And now there is even a push to deploy ground-based cruise missiles aimed at China – to which there is even greater opposition.

On top of this, there is Trump’s almost casual acceptance of the legitimacy of a string of tests by North Korea of shorter-range ballistic missiles that pose a clear threat to both South Korea and Japan. “His virtual blessing for short-range ballistic missile tests is telling his allies, South Korea and Japan, and American soldiers and expatriates that they are dispensable,” wrote Duyeon Kim in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. “This message reinforces existing security concerns in South Korea and Japan that Washington may not defend its Asian allies at critical moments, especially if US territory becomes vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear attack.”

That effectively renders useless the calls from US officials for Japan, South Korea and the United States to focus on shared security interests such as North Korea and China. Still Abe is compelled to claim success in managing the alliance with the US.

“For Mr Abe, the cordial relationship with Mr Trump is very comforting and has become an objective in itself,” a former senior Japanese foreign ministry official and adviser to prime ministers told me. “But the relationship has not been translated into deeds that benefit Japan. In fact, Abe faces horrendous demands from an unbridled Trump, who has lost sensible advisers like [former Defense Secretary James] Mattis, such as transforming the US troops into mercenaries of Japan.” The former official added that “Japan’s host nation support is already covering 75% of the necessary cost, but Trump wants Japan to pay five times as much.”

Abe is protected from the political consequences for now by the weakness of the opposition within Japan and the lack of any serious challengers from inside the ruling conservative party. Increasingly, though, he is relying on his form of nationalism, a path already taken by Moon. “The ‘Me First’ movement is contagious,” the former senior official concluded with some sadness, “grappling hold of even a docile and inactive nation like Japan.”