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It shouldn't be too difficult for Japan to apologise

Publication Date : 21-08-2014


Two scores of protestors marched on the de facto Japanese embassy in Taipei last Thursday to demand an official apology and compensation from Japan for Taiwanese women forced into sexual slavery during World War II.

Kang Shu-hua, executive director of the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation that organised the rally at the Taipei Office of Japan's Interchange Association, demanded the following: that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologise to the comfort women on behalf of the Japanese government, with an endorsement from parliament; that Japan recognise the fact that there were comfort women forced to work at military brothels; and that the Diet legislate the prohibition of remarks that twist the facts about the sex slaves for the Japanese Imperial Army.

Protestors, who included Secretary-General Bo Tedards of Amnesty International Taiwan, also demanded compensation for the victims and an inclusion of the history of the comfort women in school textbooks so that the younger generation will remember how the Japanese military forced women into sexual slavery.

An estimated 2,000 women in Taiwan under Japanese colonial rule were recruited, drafted or forced to work as sex slaves in frontline brothels abroad. But only 28 of them registered as former comfort women demanding compensation and an official apology from Japan. Only five are still alive, all in their 90s and weak. What all of them need most is Prime Minister Abe's official apology on behalf of the Japanese government before they die.

What has Abe done as prime minister to deal with the problem of comfort women? When the surviving sex slaves wanted an apology from the Japanese government in 2007, Abe, then prime minister, stated that there was no evidence that the Japanese government had kept sex slaves, even though the Japanese government had already admitted to the use of coercion in 1993.

The current Abe administration looked into the Kono statement of 1993 in which the then chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono, admitted that coercion was also used to recruit comfort women and offered an apology. On last Feb. 20, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Sugar said the Japanese government might reconsider the Kono statement. Abe clarified on March 14 that he had no intention of renouncing his acceptance of the statement or altering it.

Earlier, however, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama did offer an official apology for comfort women. An Asian Women's Foundation was formed in 1995 as a private endowment that gave compensation for former sex slaves. Together with the money, Murayama sent an official apology. “As the Prime Minister of Japan,” he pointed out, “I thus extend anew my most sincere apology and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”

Many Korean comfort women received the compensation and the apology. None of the comfort women in Taiwan did. They refused to accept the compensation that was offered by a private organisation, not the Japanese government. They did not receive the Murayama apology.

Abe may have difficulty getting the Diet to pass the legislation and the history of the comfort women included in school textbooks as was demanded by Thursday's protestors. But it's easy for him to apologise and offer Japanese government compensation for the five surviving nonagerian comfort women in Taiwan, albeit they do not look forward to monetary reparation. As a matter of fact, they receive sustenance money from local governments.

Murayama offered the official apology. Why can't Abe follow suit? Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa acknowledged military coercion and Kono offered the apology. And Abe has again accepted the Kono statement as is. All he has to do is to say “I am sorry” like Murayama.

We don't think  Abe saw a documentary titled “A Song of the Reeds,” which the Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation produced earlier this year. The documentary of what the surviving comfort women are doing to live on was also shown in Japan. Abe should see it. If he does, he wouldn't hesitate to offer a mere “lip service” to make the five grannies feel better before the looming end of their lives.


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