Korea is bracing for the worst in its ties with Japan as the Tokyo government is set to disclose the results of its controversial scrutiny of the background of the Kono Statement, one of Japan’s key apologies for its wartime atrocities.
In the statement, the Japanese government acknowledged for the first time that the Japanese Army was involved in forcing women from Korea and elsewhere into sexual slavery for its soldiers during World War II.
The statement, issued in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, is regarded by Seoul as one of the few cornerstones of the Korea-Japan relationship, as it reflects a historical perspective that Korea expects from Japan.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has officially pledged to respect the statement. But at heart, he does not believe in it. He views it as something that stands in the way of realizing his vision.
Abe’s dream is to make Japan “a beautiful country,” a country that has done nothing shameful and therefore deserves love and respect from young Japanese. But the statement apologizes for Japan’s wrongdoings and acknowledges shame.
Abe has sought to undercut the statement without officially disavowing it. So he launched a five-member panel in February to find out how the statement was compiled. His intention was to show that the statement was not based on facts.
Earlier this week, Japanese media outlets reported that the Tokyo government might announce, based on the panel’s findings, that the statement was the result of mediation between Korea and Japan.
Such an announcement would seriously undermine the credibility of the statement, as it would introduce the claim that Japan’s 1993 apology was based not on historical facts but on some kind of political bargaining with Korea.
Should Japan make such an announcement, it would amount to expressing an intention to destroy one of the key cornerstones of the current Korea-Japan relationship.
So the reports from Tokyo put Seoul on edge. Officials here asserted that the Kono Statement had been based on a study conducted by a Japanese government-commissioned research team.
They also warned that, should the Japanese government make an announcement that erodes the statement, the Seoul government would disclose historical documents proving the involvement of the Japanese government and military in running frontline brothels.
Now it is up to Japan whether or not the two neighbors leave their past behind and work together toward a prosperous future. Abe should make a wise decision and avoid further alienating Japan from the rest of the countries in the region.