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Abe should throw away historical revisionism

Publication Date : 17-03-2014


Japanese officials are continuing to make contradictory remarks on historical issues, throwing their counterparts in Seoul into confusion and fueling distrust of the incumbent Tokyo government.

Their inconsistent comments on such important issues as the sexual enslavement of women from Korea and elsewhere during World War II are hindering their efforts to reset frayed bilateral relations.

Worse, they are reinforcing the impression that the current Japanese administration is treacherous, and is trying to fool the Seoul government into accepting its offer for a summit between the leaders of the two countries.

Last week, two top aides to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered the latest example of mixed messages.

On Wednesday, Japan’s vice foreign minister and a close aide to Abe, Akitaka Saiki, flew to Seoul to hold high-level talks with his Korean counterpart. The meeting was the first of its kind since Abe poured cold water on efforts to arrange a summit by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in December.

As such, it sparked hopes for a diplomatic thaw. Yet it ended fruitlessly with the two sides simply confirming their differences on shared history, including the comfort women issue.

At the meeting, the Japanese diplomat reiterated Tokyo’s official line: The Abe administration has inherited previous governments’ perspective on Japan’s wartime and postwar history.

Saiki’s message was that the incumbent administration would uphold the two key statements that helped shape the policies of successive Japanese governments: the Kono Statement issued in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, and the Murayama Statement released two years later by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

Yet the problem with Tokyo’s official line is that it has not been strictly followed by Abe and other far-right leaders with revisionist perspectives on Japan’s history.

These politicians do not believe in the two statements, which constitute the cornerstones of Seoul-Tokyo relations. They have frequently made comments that deviate from them.

In the Kono Statement, which was based on a Japanese government study, Japan acknowledged that its wartime government and military had been involved in recruiting comfort women and forcing them to work as sexual slaves for their soldiers.

Yet Abe and other revisionist politicians deny that the comfort women system involved coercion. They callously turn a blind eye to the numerous documents confirming the Japanese military’s use of coercion against the victims.

Tellingly, on the day Saiki met his Korean counterpart to reaffirm the Abe administration’s adherence to the two statements, Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, denied in Tokyo the Japanese government’s involvement in the recruitment of sexual slaves, reiterating the false claim that no written evidence had ever been discovered.

Suga said recently that the Abe government would not revise the Kono Statement. But his denial that the Japanese government forcibly recruited comfort women suggested otherwise.

Suga’s contradictory remarks are a typical example of the deceitful dual-track diplomacy that Abe and his coterie have been following. On the surface, they say they adhere to the Kono and Murayama statements. Yet this is nothing more than lip service. They actually continue to pursue policies based on their revisionist interpretations of Japan’s history before and during World War II.

This explains the recent move by the Abe administration to reexamine details of the Kono Statement. At first, Abe and his aides sought to disavow the statement. But a strong backlash from Korea, China, the United States and other countries forced them to halt this push.

Then they began to suggest the need to reexamine the testimonies that 16 former Korean comfort women had provided to Japanese government researchers in preparation of the statement.

This call for verification was intended to discredit the statement by highlighting factual inaccuracies in the testimonies. There could be some inaccuracies as the victims testified based on old memories.

So the Korean government denounced the Abe administration’s move to reexamine the testimonies as it would ultimately undercut the value of the Kono Statement.

The Tokyo government’s ulterior motives were also not lost on a group of conscientious Japanese scholars. Hirohumi Hayashi, a professor of politics at Kanto Gakuin University, and other scholars launched a signature collection campaign to stop Abe and other leaders from making further attempts to alter the 1993 statement.

They rightly warned that any attempt to negate the statement would strain Japan’s relationships with foreign countries. They have already gathered signatures from more than 1,300 Japanese scholars, with the number expected to increase.

All these developments call into question the wisdom of Abe’s pursuit of historical revisionism. He has already inflicted enormous damage on his nation by entertaining preposterous ideas, such as denying Japan’s aggression against Korea and other Asian countries.

If he refuses to throw away outrageous historical interpretations, he will take Japan further down the road to isolation. This is as plain as day to everyone except Abe and his followers.

On Friday, Abe said in a parliamentary session that his administration would uphold previous governments’ policies on historical issues, including the 1993 and 1995 statements.

This announcement came against the backdrop of strong pressure from the United States to mend ties with Seoul. Washington wants the two allies to hold a summit on the sidelines of the third Nuclear Security Summit slated for March 24-25 in the Hague.

The U.S. push is motivated by a desire to form a trilateral front with the two allies to more effectively deal with security threats from China and North Korea.

Abe’s Friday comment on the two statements differed from his previous stance, so it was welcomed by Seoul and Washington. But Seoul officials are still not sure that Abe and other Japanese leaders will adhere to the two statements, given that they have not scrapped their plan to scrutinize the Kono Statement. So if Abe is serious about repairing ties with Seoul and holding a summit with President Park Geun-hye, he needs to show it in deed not word.

The first thing Abe should do is to consign to the dustbin his revisionist views, which do no good to anyone. He should realize that he can still pursue his vision of making Japan a “normal” country without his distorted historical perceptions.

In fact, by ditching a provocative perspective on history, Abe would be able to attain his dream more easily. A commitment to Japan’s established policies on historical issues would enable him to start building confidence with neighboring countries.

But that is not enough. He needs to go further to win confidence from them. He should address the long-standing grievances of the surviving sexual slaves, stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine and make genuine apologies for Japan’s wartime atrocities.

Yu Kun-ha is chief editorial writer of The Korea Herald.


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