Media  Foreign Affairs and National Security  2014.03.19

No Revision of Apology to Comfort Women

JBPress on March 14, 2014

A short but material correction was made, on March 5, 2014, to a March 2 editorial by a leading U.S. daily newspaper. The sentence beginning with "the Abe government would possibly rescind an apology" to Korean comfort women was deleted, because, according to the paper, the original "editorial incorrectly stated" this.

Most Japanese do not read English language newspapers every day. Therefore, the silent majority of Japanese do not know how often the editorials of major American newspapers may be corrected for errors. This is, however, not about articles by correspondents but about editorials by the editorial board. The paper has not yet specified why the sentence was incorrect.

The Japanese apology referred to in the editorial is an excerpt from Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono's statement of Aug. 4, 1993 which expressed the following:

"Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women."

This factual correction may actually cast additional doubt on the credibility of the editorial. This is because the same editorial also states that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "and other nationalists still claim that the Nanjing massacre by Japanese troops in 1937 never happened." Once again, the editorial is mistaken because it is clear that the Prime Minister never claimed that the tragedy "in 1937 never happened."

Back to the Kono statement. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a March 11 press conference said that, "The Abe government has repeatedly promised to uphold the Kono statement," reiterating that the administration has no plans to revise it. In Washington, a State Department spokesperson called Japan's continued commitment to the statement a "positive step."

Reportedly, Mr. Suga only plans to verify the evidence and check whether the 1993 statement was agreed to by the South Korean government at the time. It is not to revise the Kono statement itself but just to look at the fact-finding process behind the statement.

The silent majority of Japanese know very well that the above tragedies did happen and consider them inexcusable, no matter how big the numbers of victims actually were. They see no reason to "rescind" the apology and generally support Mr. Abe's policy to uphold it. They don't wish to win the argument with the Koreans and the Chinese. Rather, they would prefer to put an end to this endless "history" game.

In this respect, it is worthwhile to note that the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS) had conducted similar research, including on the issue of South Korean involvement in the making of the Kono statement and the activities of the Asian Women's Fund which was established by the Government of Japan in 1994.

The fund was for distributing compensation to comfort women in South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Indonesia. The following are quotes from the conclusion referring to South Koreans in the CRS memorandum entitled "Japanese Military's 'Comfort Women' System," published April 3, 2007 in Washington D.C.

- An overlooked issue in much of the discussion of comfort women is whether former comfort women in allied and occupied countries had adequate freedom to decide whether to accept compensation and/or assistance from the Asian Women's Fund.

- It appears that they did have sufficient freedom in the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Netherlands but that they were discouraged in Taiwan and intimidated in South Korea not to accept assistance from the Asian Women's Fund.

- Despite the financial generosity of the South Korean government's own fund for former comfort women, the South Korean government and NGOs used it and other means as instruments of pressure and intimidation against Korean women who otherwise would have sought assistance from the Asian Women's Fund in 1997.

- South Korean press reports on the comfort women issue often denigrate the Asian Women's Fund by asserting that only a "small number" of women came forward to accept the Fund's assistance because most former comfort women rejected the Fund because of its "unofficial" status.

- The press as well as the South Korean government continue to avoid acknowledging South Korea's intimidation of its own comfort women in the episode of 1997.

Mr. Suga's review into how the statement was put together is still on-going, and is intended, in particular, to determine if South Korea played a role in producing the Kono statement and to double-check the accuracy of testimonies by former Korean comfort women. No matter what the findings will be, there will most likely be no change to the Kono statement.