Relations between Korea and Japan appear to be hanging in the balance as Tokyo is gearing up to unveil this week the results of a review of its landmark 1993 apology for its sexual enslavement of Korean women during World War II.
In the document in the name of then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, Japan acknowledged and apologized for its Imperial Army’s involvement in setting up “comfort facilities” and forcing women to serve in frontline brothels. Up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, are believed to have had been forced to provide sex to Japanese troops during the war.
|Protesters demonstrate against the Shinzo Abe administration’s push for the right to exercise collective self-defense on Sunday. Organizers say some 500 people took part in the event. ( Yonhap)|
The so-called Kono Statement, coupled with a 1995 apology by former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, had paved the way for a thaw in the two countries’ volatile relationship.
The Shinzo Abe administration has been working to review the “background” of the 1993 apology in recent months. It is expected to submit a report to the parliament before its session ends this Sunday.
Though the hawkish premier said he was not considering a revision at an upper house session in March, the outcome will likely have a “substantial” impact on the two countries ties should it undercut the statement in any way, officials and experts say.
Abe’s first government in 2006-07 concluded that it had not discovered proof from the military or state agencies that the so-called comfort women were subjected to coercion.
Fueling tension was a Kyodo News report on Sunday that the document would argue that the two countries “bargained on the language” in the Kono Statement and Japan “bent to South Korean pressure in admitting to active involvement by the Japanese military in sex slavery.”
Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said in response that the statement basically resulted from Tokyo’s “independent surveys and judgment.”
“If the Japanese government announces a result that damages the Kono Statement on the pretext of a review, we will actively present authoritative claims and records at home and abroad,” the ministry said in a statement.
On the other hand, the upcoming announcement may mark a turning point in the bilateral relations if Abe keeps his word in the face of pressure in and out of the country, some observers say.
Despite concerns over the country’s drastic swing to the right, more than 1,300 Japanese scholars have reportedly taken part in a signature-collecting campaign in protest against any alteration of the statement.
Public protests have also been intensifying against a series of revisionist moves by the Abe administration, also including its push for the right to collective self-defense and a reinterpretation of its pacifist constitution.
Meanwhile, China and North Korea have criticized the move as an attempt to whitewash the country’s imperial past. Even the U.S. has displayed concerns ― or veiled warnings ― to its top regional ally, with President Barack Obama calling the mobilization of comfort women a “terrible, egregious and shocking” violation of human rights at a news conference in Seoul in April.
“For now we can only speculate on the result of the review, it will not easy for Abe to defy what he has said before the parliament, especially at a time when the international community is raising its voice against Japan’s wartime atrocities,” a ministry official said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
By Shin Hyon-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)