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Abe Should Send Correct Messages on Historical Issues (Yoshiko Sakurai, Journalist and President of JINF)

h0330 / 2013.01.10 (Thu)

Speaking Out #174

       Challenges for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe include historical perceptions, national security and economic stagnation that are all not easy to deal with. Particularly, he will have to address historical perception problems not only in China and South Korea but also in the United States, the ally of Japan.


NY Times exposed lack of knowledge
       The New York Times in its editorial on January 3 harshly criticized Prime Minister Abe's remarks in an interview with The Sankei Shimbun newspaper as reported by Reuters. "Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, seems inclined to start his tenure with a serious mistake...," the newspaper said of Abe's reported remark that he wants to replace then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's 1995 statement of apology for Japan's past "aggression" with a "forward looking statement" suitable for the 21st century.
       Japan has been erroneously accused of coercing Korean and other Asian women into becoming comfort women and issued the so-called Kono statement admitting to its coercive recruitment of those women. Many investigations have found that none was coerced into serving as comfort women for Japan's wartime military. But the New York Times editorial effectively criticized Japan for having coerced Korean and other women into becoming “sex slaves.”
       The editorial brushed off these investigations and put the problem back to square one, using such words as "sex slaves," "a right-wing nationalist," "revisionism" and “shameful impulses.” It remarkably indicated emotional reactions to historical problems and the lack of knowledge.
       Japan's Foreign Ministry for its part has lost its willingness to refute such claims, explaining that it has no way to refute the Christianity-based claim that the presence of comfort women was wrong. The ministry is afraid that refuting basic American values could work to stall the entire Japan-U.S. relationship including diplomatic and security ties.
       Such bureaucratic thinking may force Japan to accept groundless criticisms permanently. At this juncture, however, Japan should protect its honor while reaffirming that Japan and the U.S. share past failures and a common ambition to achieve a better future.
       Facilities similar to wartime comfort stations existed even after the war. As soon as U.S. forces occupied Japan in 1945, they first urged Japan to provide women. Although comfort women are described as "sex slaves," the slavery system was a U.S. system. Americans coercively took a large number of Africans to the United States and sold them as goods rather than as humans.


Focus on shared values
      But I have to emphasize that the United States has historically tried to eliminate all discriminations. I would like to pay my deep respect to the United States that has made greater efforts than any other country to abolish gender and racial discriminations. I am confident that Americans who have built such respectable country are in the best position to understand Japanese people's past and present efforts to protect the values that Americans want to protect.
      For example, Japan wished to contribute to building a new international order after World War I and then proposed the principle of racial equality for the first time in the world. But then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, who chaired the Paris Peace Conference, failed to take up the proposal by Japan that was well aware of sufferings from racial discriminations.
      At present, Japanese have had done serious soul searching on prostitution even though it was common practice before the end of World War II. As well as the United States, Japan has been striving to contribute to universal values.
      Japan and the United States share various values. Beyond bureaucratic thinking, the prime minister is responsible for making a decision to inform the United States of the fact and launch a national information project for mutual learning between Japan and the United States.


Yoshiko Sakurai is President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.