“Though there are many definitions of coercion, Prime Minister Abe has said … that he will stand by the Kono statement,” said Hiroshige Seko, special adviser in charge of Abe’s public relations, referring to a 1993 statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologizing to the victims of sex slavery.
The Kono statement also acknowledged many women were forced into prostitution and that the military government was involved in some cases.
“He has not denied the statement,” Seko told a TV Asahi talk show. He did not attempt to explain the apparent discrepancies between the statement and Abe’s denial that coercion was involved.
“The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion,” Abe said on Thursday.
Below is the 1993 Kono Statement from the Japanese Foreign Ministy’s website:
The Government of Japan has been conducting a study on the issue of wartime “comfort women” since December 1991. I wish to announce the findings as a result of that study.
As a result of the study which indicates that comfort stations were operated in extensive areas for long periods, it is apparent that there existed a great number of comfort women. Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.
As to the origin of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc.
Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.
It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment.
We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterated our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.
As actions have been brought to court in Japan and interests have been shown in this issue outside Japan, the Government of Japan shall continue to pay full attention to this matter, including private researched related thereto.
To sum up, the Kono Statement, made under the Miyazawa administration, based on research during that time acknowledged the Japanese military, an apparatus of the Imperial Japanese Government, had directly collected women as sex slaves or hired private companies to recruit women, though the bulk of the comfort women were forcefully collected from their occupied territories in the Second World War.
The Japanese government’s study at the time concluded that not only were the bulk of the comfort women made of women brought to comfort stations against their will by the IJA but they were continually kept in a coercive environment until they were either liberated by the Allies or when the IJA laid down their arms.
It’s interesting to note that the Kono Statement made a point that the government of Japan would continue to openly listen to viewpoints to this issue and vowed to face the historical facts instead of avoiding them. One result of this study of comfort women in the early 1990s was the creation of the Asian Women’s Fund, which is a private compensation fund for surviving comfort women that is indirectly funded by the Japanese government. This indirect approach of the government in providing compensation through the Asian Women’s Fund, which will expire on the 31st of March, proves to some that it was not willing to truly confront the issue.
Now, in response to Thursday’s remarks, Hiroshige Seko, Abe’s adviser, said that Abe does not deny the conclusions made in the Kono statement, but only had issues with the definition of coercion. This is quite interesting because if this was really an honest case of mistranslation or misinterpretation, why did Abe not bother to address the public himself about his remarks in light of the responses made by Japan’s neighbouring states?
The Kono Statement concluded that comfort women, most of whom were captured, where in fact coerced into sexual exploitation by the IJA and the Miyazawa administration established the Asian Women’s Fund to partly face the issue. On the other hand, Abe said he did not believe coercion took place since there was no proof, implying many comfort women were treated fairly and contradicting the conclusions made under the Miyazawa administration in the Kono Statement.
Much of the follow-up article by the Associate Press had a great deal of spin, but it concluded with the following statement:
Historians say that about 200,000 women – mostly from Korea and China – served in Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Accounts of abuse by the military have been backed up by witnesses, and even former Japanese soldiers.
Abe’s statement contradicted evidence in Japanese documents, unearthed in 1992, that historians said showed that military authorities had a direct role in working with contractors to forcibly procure women for the brothels.
But prominent Japanese scholars and politicians routinely deny direct military involvement or the use of force in rounding up the women, blaming private contractors for the abuses.
Abe Shinzo’s recent statements are disappointing to say the least. He was expected by many to rebuild regional ties while asserting his power within the LDP by catering to the pro-Business, conservative and pro-China factions in the party while keeping many of his personal views to himself as Prime Minister. Both South Korean and Chinese governments have taken an act of good faith by working to restore ties with him and he in return has taken steps to resolve lingering issues such as commissioning joint studies to resolve historical disputes.
It looked like things were going towards a better direction, until he made those remarks about comfort women. Some pundits say he did it to appeal to voters, others to appeal to the more conservative factions in his party where he is unpopular. Japanese fanboys and nationalists claim it was a mistranslation by the racist media or justified it by pointing out contradictory testimony made by a few surviving comfort women to discredit any claims and even pointing out colonial-era advertisements to somehow prove that comfort women were treated fairly and acceptable.