Interview: Abe's challenge to semantics of comfort women issue backfires

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Since the world-recognized "Kono Statement" was released by the then Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, offering an official apology to Japan's wartime sex slavery victims, known euphemistically as " comfort women," the statement has been seen a beacon that shed a gleam of light in the darkness for countless victims.

However, the light from that beacon has been dimmed since some Japanese rightist politicians tried to shake its very foundation by challenging the Korean victims' testimonies and semantics of the landmark statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a grandson of Nobusuke Kishi who was a Class-A war criminal during WWII and a prime minister in the 1950s, has proved his right-leaning convictions by attacking the statement and denying that the comfort women were " forcibly recruited."

"It is not the first time that Abe has rejected the wording: ' forcible recruitment.' When he was prime minister in 2007, Abe defined, in a Diet session, that 'forcible recruitment' meant ' women were forcibly taken by Japanese soldiers directly from their houses' and the government at that time also adopted a cabinet resolution stating there was no evidence that can prove such ' forcible recruitment' took place, according to governmental documents," Mina Watanabe told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview.

Watanabe, secretary general of the Women's Active Museum on War and Peace (WAM), said the resolution is responsible for the current confusion about the comfort women issue in Japan, adding she and her colleagues had filed a request to the Abe administration to retract the resolution.

"The Abe administration frequently changes its attacks on the Kono Statement as they've always failed to reach their goals, including denouncing the credibility of 16 Korean victims' testimonies and the Asahi Shimbun's retraction of its report on Seiji Yoshida who admitted he helped the Japanese Imperial Army to abduct women in Korea to serve as sex slaves," Watanabe said.

But the main content of the Kono Statement was fixed even before the hearings of the 16 Korean victims' testimonies according to a recently released report reviewing the statement by the government, the women's rights activist told Xinhua.

The government also admitted that Yoshida's testimony was not referred to during the compiling of the Kono Statement, she added.

On Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga's recent denial of Kono's remarks, which admitted the existence of "forcible recruitment" in a press briefing after the issue of the Kono Statement, Watanabe said the latest attack raised a very difficult question to be answered.

"The Kono Statement itself does not contain the words 'forcible recruitment.' It states that comfort women 'were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc.,' and there were so many ways of coaxing and coercion, such as lies and manipulation about the army being able to provide good jobs such as nurses for soldiers through intermediaries, or threats made against the lives of the women and their families," the expert on the issue explained.

But at that time, it was unnecessary for the Japanese army to say: "forcibly abduct" or "forcibly recruit" some women, if they needed comfort women, Watanabe said. Only "take" or "bring" was enough for them to recruit comfort women.

"Abe is trying to narrow the definition of 'forcible recruitment' as "directly abducted by soldiers from houses,' but it is common sense worldwide that all interpretations of 'against one's own will,' will include coaxing and coercion, and can fall into the 'forcible recruitment' category," she said.

"Everyone here knows what happened behind the semantics of ' take' and ' bring,' but they all pretend that they are not aware of the obvious facts behind the words and solely focus on the question as to whether the soldiers broke in and took women away by force."

"Although no direct proof has been found in government documents about 'forcible recruitment' as of now, many victims' cases on previous battlefields like the Philippines and China involved Abe's 'forcible recruitment,' because in Japan-colonized Korea, there were many civil groups who took part in recruiting comfort women, but things were very different on the battlefield."

Watanabe said that the Abe administration shrugs off the wartime sex slavery issue, and in its report in 2014 submitted to the UN human rights watchdog, the government said Abe was "deeply pained" by the comfort women's suffering, but never said it would apologize and reflect, in contrast to the then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government, which said in its 2012 report that the issue hurts the dignity and reputation of many women and the government apologizes to all of them and will reflect on its actions.

"Abe and his followers spare no effort to deny all Japanese army's wartime atrocities that includes using comfort women, the Nanking Massacre and forcing Okinawan people to commit suicide. You see, the prime minister tries to avoid saying 'colonial rule' and 'aggression' during Diet debates and this is somewhat motivated by Abe's military policy. He wants to beef up the Japanese military and upgrade the self-defense forces to a national defense army. Therefore, Abe needs to polish the image of the Japanese forces, which were formed from the Imperial Army."

But Abe's painstaking efforts have backfired in the international community, Watanabe said, noting that ridiculous farces by nationalist Yumiko Yamamoto in Geneva demanding the UN Commission on Human Rights stop using the term "sex slaves," brought more shame on Japan.

Yamamoto, who called herself a "patriot," led a delegation in Geneva and claimed that the comfort women were just "wartime prostitutes who enjoyed spending time freely and who worked under contract in exchange for highly paid monetary reward for that time. "

"Because of people like Abe and Yamamoto and their attempt to whitewash Japan's wrongdoing, the UN human rights organ uses stern words in its recommendation to Japan. In the United States more and more people support the erection of comfort women memorial statues by Korean immigrants," said Watanabe.

She further explained that many people here are indifferent to politics and the situation gives rightist groups a chance, enabling conservative politicians like Sanae Takaichi and Eriko Yamatani to enter the Abe administration as cabinet ministers.

"Right now, the public broadcaster NHK became one of Abe's bootlickers, and the Asahi Shimbun has shied away to some extents due to the report on Yoshida. Although our voices are not suppressed, it is difficult for us to publicize our opinion. As the WAM is a civil group without government support, we can do what we want to do now, but you can feel that the freedom and physical space for us is shrinking under Abe's government," Watanabe said, adding her museum is always harassed by letters and phone calls.

On the future work of the WAM, Watanabe said she hopes for closer and broader international cooperation on investigations into the truth of the comfort women issue.

"The issue is not a bilateral one between Japan and South Korea. It involves China, the Philippines, the Netherlands and other regions once occupied by Japan. We hope relevant materials and documents in all relevant countries and regions can be collected and publicized as soon as possible," Watanabe said. Endi

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