政府慰安婦説明 誤解払拭へ国際発信を強めよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
More outward approach needed to fix ‘comfort women’ misperception
政府慰安婦説明 誤解払拭へ国際発信を強めよ

Japan must ramp up outbound dissemination of information in an effort to eliminate misperceptions about the so-called comfort women issue.

During a recent session of the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Geneva, the government gave comprehensive explanations about facts related to the issue for the first time, saying among other things that no documents confirming forcible recruitment of comfort women have been found.

Referring to testimony by the late Seiji Yoshida that he “hunted women” for recruitment of comfort women on Jeju Island in what is now South Korea, Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama denounced his testimony as a total fabrication and said The Asahi Shimbun, which had reported his testimony, had since admitted it was an erroneous report and apologized over it.

Though the government’s rebuttal came belatedly, it is absolutely necessary to accurately correct the international community’s misunderstanding of the facts and actively rebut assertions that could damage the reputation of Japan.

Touching on Japan’s support for former comfort women based on the Asian Women’s Fund and the Japan-South Korea agreement last December, Sugiyama said, “Criticisms that the Japanese government denies history and has taken no action on the matter run counter to facts.”

With this as a starting point, Japan must step up diplomatic efforts to disseminate all facts related to the comfort women issue across the world.

Of concern is the global spread of the misperception that “200,000 women were forced by the Japanese military to become sex slaves.”

Contrary to facts

The spread of that misperception was triggered by a report by Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1996.

Using the Yoshida testimony as part of its grounds for concluding that the comfort women were “sex slaves,” the report mentioned that the number of comfort women hailing from the Korean Peninsula alone totaled 200,000. Such a mistaken expression was inscribed as part of the epitaphs of comfort women statues installed in the United States.

Arguing that there can be no ground for asserting that there were “200,000” comfort women, Sugiyama also said the expression “sex slaves” was “contrary to the facts.”

History researchers in Japan and foreign countries have assumed certain numbers of comfort women based on such data as the number of soldiers at the time. Their majority view is that 200,000 is an overestimated figure.

It is regrettable, however, that the Foreign Ministry did not make any effective refutation when the Coomaraswamy’s report was submitted to the United Nations panel.

This is probably because the ministry was bound by the fact that the report used some quotes from the statement made by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993. Kono said that “in many cases they were recruited against their own will” and “administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments.” Revision of the Kono Statement is a heavy challenge for the future.

The South Korean government has contended during the U.N. panel session in Geneva that “the forcible mobilization of comfort women is a historical fact.” But it refrained from making a strong condemnation in consideration of the last year’s bilateral agreement that called for both parties to exercise self-restraint on criticizing each other at the United Nations and other international forums.

Japan’s focus this time on explaining the facts about comfort women can be deemed to be based on the same intention. Japan-South Korea relations have started improving after remaining stagnant for a long time. They must avoid a return to the folly of waging a futile battle of mutual criticism.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 19, 2016)

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