Public outrage against Japan has further heightened as the archipelago country’s high-profile politicians make remarks denying its colonial atrocities ahead of crucial parliamentary polls expected as early as in October.
Rekindled after President Lee Myung-bak’s Aug. 10 visit to the Dokdo islets, which are also claimed by Japan, diplomatic tension flared up anew on Monday when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda claimed that there was no evidence that Japan forcibly mobilized Korean women for sexual enslavement during World War II.
“(The issue of the colonial victims) has been settled (under a 1965 bilateral pact). We will continue to present this position (to Seoul),” he told a parliamentary budget committee session.
Jin Matsubara, chairman of Japan’s National Public Safety Commission, took another provocative step at the same session, raising the need for a review among cabinet members over whether to withdraw the 1993 apologetic statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
In the landmark statement, Kono expressed “sincere apologies and remorse” for the sufferings of the victims, euphemistically called “comfort women.” It raised the hope for the resolution of the thorny issue, which was stymied amid strong opposition from Japan’s rightist politicians.
Regarding the statement, Noda, however, said that his government basically stuck to it as his predecessors did.
Matsubara of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is one of the officials who visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15 that honors war dead including class-A war criminals. The DPJ had refrained from visiting the shrine in consideration of relations with Korea and China since it took power in 2009.
The unapologetic moves from top Japanese officials drew sharp criticism from the Seoul government and activists here.
Kim Young-won, head of a taskforce on the comfort women issue at Seoul’s Foreign Ministry, called for a sincere attitude from Japan in recognizing its past. He stressed that the issue concerned the universal value of human rights.
“The Kono statement is the presentation of Tokyo’s position on the issue. Our government thinks that is even insufficient. We cannot accept Tokyo’s denial of the statement or its different interpretation of it,” he said in a media interview.
“The issue concerns the universal value of human rights and also Japan’s national prestige. Japan takes a dual stance. While it pushes for the resolution of the Dokdo case through a legal procedure, Japan remains passive on the peaceful resolution of the comfort women issue.”
Tokyo has maintained that all issues involving the colonial victims were settled under a 1965 deal that was signed when the two countries normalized their diplomatic relations.
But Seoul argues that the comfort women issue is separate from the deal as it is a humanitarian issue. During his Liberation Day address, Lee said that it was a broader human rights issue that goes beyond the bilateral relationship.
A group of local civic groups also called for Japan’s sincere apology to the wartime victims, highlighting the urgency of the issue given that most of the women, have died.
“We hope Tokyo will have the courage to recognize (its wrongdoings) and repent. We hope for the bilateral relationship not aggravated by unnecessary disputes and political calculations, but aimed at forging a peaceful community in East Asia,” the group’s statement said.
The current number of survivors who experienced the sexual slavery at Japan’s military brothels stands at 60, according to Seoul’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. Sixteen of the victims died last year with four having passed away so far this year.
The provocative remarks by Tokyo officials come as Japan’s right-wingers are being increasingly emboldened at a time the country apparently seeks to shore up its national pride sapped by its prolonged economic malaise and a series of natural disasters.
Experts say that the conservative tide in Japan is expected to continue ahead of possible legislative elections.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated that he would reverse all of Tokyo’s past statements containing apologetic remarks should his party win the elections and he be elected as prime minister.
In an interview with Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, Abe said, “There is a need to revise all statements including those by Kiichi Miyazawa, Yohei Kono and Tomiichi Murayama. A new government view should be unveiled.”
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)