Tag Archives: Japan-South Korea

Cumings' Japan Alarmism and Article 9 in U.S.-Japan Ties

Bruce Cumings, the distinguished Korea historian at University of Chicago, had some pretty harsh and not particularly well defended criticism of Japan in a recent OhMyNews interview. I can’t get it to load right now, but from what Occidentalism posted, it seems like he’s lost his temper with the Japanese nationalists.

For a long time — I have to admit decades — I discounted alarmist stories of Japan moving to the right and wanting to revise the constitution. Generally those forces weren’t important 10 or 20 years ago, but they’re very important now. They’ve been moving closer to the Bush administration, particularly Rumsfeld when he in office, and Cheney and what they want Japan to do.

After calling earlier Japan-fearers “alarmist,” you might expect him to justify his alarm with evidence. Alas, he appeals to presumed negative sentiments toward the Bush administration to paint Japan as closer to the belligerent United States than to its constitutional pacifism. He goes on to say that “Japan” (not its leaders) is playing a “dangerous game,” and that even though he thinks it’s unlikely the right will get enough support to revise the constitution, we should be worried that they’re even trying.

I must say this is a thoroughly odd series of statements from a well-respected historian, and it may show that he’s out of practice talking about the future instead of the past. (Jonathan Spence seems much more careful, and I do allow that Cumings might significantly revise his statements if given the chance.)

But let’s look at the embedded assumptions here. By arguing that Japan is not doing well by getting closer to the Bush administration, he implies disapproval of U.S. actions (by no means an unreasonable position) and underlines the hazard for Japan of getting closer to a problematic United States. But if the Japanese constitution were revised, giving Japan the sovereign right to use force in international relations, Japan would be much more free to act independently of the United States.

Japanese rightism does not innately imply alignment with the United States. Indeed, as I’m sure Cumings knows, Ishihara Shintaro, one of the most prominent Japanese rightists, made his first international political splash with the book「NO」と言える日本 (The Japan That Can Say No), a nationalist argument for a Japan more independent from the United States in economic and foreign policy. Article 9 revision would give Japan the ability to be a more equal military partner with the United States, but it would also increase its ability to stand alone. It’s likely Prime Minister Abe will not be in power when the constitutional referendum comes up in 2011, so it’s quite hard to predict what geopolitical changes would result.

Abe's 'Comfort Women' denial: U.S. reaction, a victim speaks, and classifieds

Just joining us? See this entry and this follow-up.

New developments:

  • U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte would not comment on Abe’s specific words, but AP reports:

    “Our view is that what happened during the war was most deplorable,” he said when asked about the sex slave issue. “But … as far as some kind of resolution of this issue, this is something that must be dealt with between Japan and the countries that were affected.”

  • Occidentalism posts two Korean newspaper ads from 1944 seeking 慰安婦, or “comfort women,” who were promised what amounts to a salary and a signing bonus. From the post:

    The newspaper ads suggest that, at least in Korea, the recruitment of “comfort women” was open, legitimate, and socially acceptable. They are also evidence that the women were well paid. For example, a commenter going by the name of “Void” wrote that the salary of a lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army was only 110 yen per month, which means that the women would have been receiving almost triple the salary of a Japanese army lieutenant.

    Even the Kono Statement acknowledged that some women were recruited in the open and some by force. The ads certainly don’t imply “legitimate and socially acceptable.” Just because you can buy something from a newspaper ad doesn’t mean society thinks it’s OK. Further, the newspaper may have been controlled by Japanese forces, and under imperial administration, it would be misleading to say open press reflected the norms of the people being dominated.

  • Meanwhile, a Korean woman who has spoken out at the U.S. Congress about her experience as a sex slave reemphasized to reporters in broken Japanese her experience of abduction and brutal rape during enslavement. Hers is only one example of several that have surfaced in the day’s press reports. Here’s Lee Yong-soo, 78:

    “I cried ‘mother, mother,’ but they never stopped. They used electric shocks to torture me. They kicked me. They cut me,” she said tearfully in broken Japanese.

    “After I returned home after the war, I did not tell anyone about what happened to me,” she said.

    She said she has been staging protests for 16 years outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul to demand an apology.

    “Japan forcibly took me away. I am a living witness. I will tell my story wherever,” she said. “I demand the prime minister of Japan apologise.”

    I don’t have any independent information on this woman’s account, but what she describes sounds a lot like “coercion” to me.

More on Abe's 'Comfort Women' Denial

Japan Probe has a good entry that digs up the transcript for the October statement I referred to twice previously. Abe was responding to questions from Shii Kazuo, the chair of the executive committee of the Japanese Communist Party, and insisted that his cabinet would follow the Kono Statement. Abe said his previous questioning of the statement centered around the issue of whether middle school students ought to be taught about the “comfort stations” and around the definition of “coercion.” Here’s a portion of what Abe said under Shii’s questioning:

Abe: My understanding at that time was that the Kono statement was intended to admit that the Japanese government was involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the recruitment of comfort women, express apologies and remorse for that, and promise to study in what way the government should express its apology and remorse. At the time, I questioned whether a junior high school textbook should include descriptions of military comfort women. For example, I thought it was necessary to first take into account the state of children’s development. I also thought it important to ascertain whether there was coercion in the narrow sense of the word. I said that if there are differences of opinion regarding the facts, we may have to reconsider including the material in the textbook.

I said that nothing substantiates the fact of coercion in the narrow sense of the word. When I discussed this issue, I pointed out that the name of YOSHIDA Seiji cited in textbooks as a person in charge of the recruitment of comfort women was later found to be a mistake. That was a question I raised in my statement. [Full transcript mirrored here.]

James’ post at Japan Probe also points to Matt of Occidentalism‘s more accurate translation of Abe’s recent statement:


“It is a fact there was no proof to support coercion as it was initially defined”


“We must premise it [the kono statement about comfort women] on the thought that the definition of it [coercion] had been greatly changed from its [initial] definition”

The English language media (including my previous post, which was dashed off rather quickly) did not accurately represent the fact that Abe’s statement is hedged in language about the definition of coercion. It’s important to understand the subtleties of the rhetoric Abe is using when considering the domestic audience, but in international affairs, this sort of slight misquote is standard procedure. It may be that with slipping poll numbers, Abe finds it necessary to appeal to his long-time base: rightists and nationalists in the LDP.

Abe Rescinds Support for 1993 Comfort Women Statement

In the politics of 20th century East Asian history, the Japanese wartime practice of using women as sex slaves under the putrid euphemism “comfort women” is comparable only to the Nanjing Massacre and the Yasukuni Shrine in its prominence. In 1993, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Kono Yohei, acknowledged that “comfort stations” had existed and that military and government officials directly engaged in “recruitment” of sex slaves.

The Kono Statement hardly apologized for the full horror of the practice, but now Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is nonetheless backing away from Kono’s half-measure acknowledgment. “The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion,” Abe said, according to AP. “We have to take it from there.”

This comes after Abe in October said his administration would “inherit” the Kono Statement, despite the fact that he had spoken out against it previously.

Meanwhile in the United States:

Several members of the U.S. House of Representatives have drafted a nonbinding resolution calling for Abe to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility” for using “comfort women” during the war.

Supporters want an apology similar to the one the U.S. government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II.

More on this later.

Is the Nuclear Unity Hiding Ongoing Friction?

Dozens of reporters are working the North Korean nuclear test story. Dozens more, some on double duty, are covering Abe Shinzo’s tour through China and South Korea. I won’t try to duplicate or aggregate their work, but some of the key links appear at right in my Google Reader feed.

But there’s something going on behind the headlines that we shouldn’t overlook. Some commentators are hailing the current “fence-mending” tour and the region’s unanimity against North Korea’s actions as a sign of a new era in Japan’s relations with its neighbors. Maybe, but the jury is still out on the Abe administration.

When pressed by an opposition politician, Abe said he would not change the Murayama Statement of 1995, in which Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi expressed regret for Japan’s military actions during World War II on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end. “I have no plans of creating a new statement that would rewrite what the 1995 statement said,” Abe said. “That statement was approved by the then Cabinet so it still lives on with my Cabinet.”

But just because Abe won’t redress the Murayama Statement doesn’t mean he won’t step on diplomatic toes. What’s certain is that he is being careful not to cross China and South Korea early on. During Abe’s visit to China, Hu Jintao raised Yasukuni then said obliquely, “I hope you will work to remove political obstacles.” Far from resolutely conciliatory, this statement echoes statements by Hu and others in the Chinese government during the Koizumi era, when phrases like “responsible view of history” were code, meaning, “Don’t go to Yasukuni, Jun!”

But the visit did go smoothly, and the leaders’ agreement that a North Korean nuclear test would be “unacceptable” dominated the agenda. Since the nuclear test apparently occurred while Abe was in the air on the way to South Korea, the nuclear issue—and the corresponding unanimity—promises to dominate Abe’s time there. There is little potential for the emergence of Japan–Asia disputes on this trip, but that doesn’t mean it’s clear sailing forever.
Asahi Shimbun notes that Abe has a history of differing statements on the Murayama Statement and another political statement on the “comfort women” issue:

Abe previously had been similarly vague on his own views toward Murayama’s statement. In February, when Abe was still chief Cabinet secretary, he offered a different interpretation of Japan’s actions during World War II.

“There is also the issue of how to define a war of aggression,” Abe said at a Lower House Budget Committee session. “I think the situation is one in which no set definition has been decided on by scholars.”

Abe had taken a similar path regarding the [Chief Cabinet Secretary] Kono [Yohei] statement that acknowledged the involvement of the Imperial Japanese Army in the management of brothels for “comfort women.” The [1993] statement accompanied a report by the government on the “comfort women” issue.

In 1997, Abe joined a group of young Diet lawmakers that took issue with Japan’s history education.

At a session of the Lower House Audit Committee’s second sub-committee in May 1997, Abe criticized Kono’s statement as being based on false information.

On Thursday, Abe said his Cabinet will now inherit that statement.

Abe has already changed his historical interpretations to fit the political tides. It is therefore hard to predict what he will do in the future.