RELUCANT FOREIGN MINISTRY FAILS TO BLOCK ADDITION OF “NANJING MASSACRE” TO UNESCO’S “MEMORY OF WORLD” REGISTER
UNESCO has awarded international heritage status to documents China has submitted on the “Nanjing Incident” of 1937, prompting Japan to warn it may consider cutting off funding to the UN cultural organization.
Materials pertaining to the “comfort women” issue China had simultaneously submitted were not accepted this time, but Beijing is known to be preparing to apply again next year, teaming up with the two Koreas, Indonesia, and the Netherlands.
Extensive studies conducted by international researchers and historians over the decades, including Chinese and South Koreans, have failed to produce compelling proof that the Japanese army carried out a mass slaughter in Nanjing on the scale claimed by Beijing; the Chinese assert more than 300,000 Chinese were slaughtered between December 1937 and January 1938. Past research has similarly failed to produce persuasive evidence that the Japanese military coerced Korean women into sexual slavery, as claimed by the Koreans and the Chinese. Japan views these as fabrications invented by Beijing and Seoul to defame it. And yet, UNESCO has recognized the “Nanjing Massacre” as a horrendous incident mankind should mark in permanent memory. Documents accounting for the “sex slaves” could also be given world heritage status unless Japan works out urgent countermeasures. Where has the government—namely the Foreign Ministry—been while all this has been going on?
Clearly, the Japanese government has been negligent in disseminating pertinent information about these issues. Our politicians and diplomats have shown a remarkable indifference to the information war that China and South Korea have tenaciously been waging against Japan over the years. In this regard, Ms. Mio Mizuta, a former member of the lower house of the Diet, spoke with me about her own experience with Japan’s inept diplomacy—although the incident she related had no direct connection with the recent decision by UNESCO.
While a lawmaker, Mizuta was instrumental in February 2014 in requesting that former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who authored the controversial “Kono Statement,” be summoned to the Diet to testify. Mizuta started a nationwide campaign to have Kono clarify the statement he made in 1993 that the Korean “comfort women” had been coerced. For that purpose, Mizuta managed to collect more than 140,000 signatures. Defeated in the last election in December, she flew to Geneva in late July to attend a session of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). While there, Mizuta says, she saw with her own eyes just how flawed is Japan’s handling of such matters on the international stage.
“I attended one of CEDAW’s sub-committee meetings with Ms. Yumiko Yamamoto, who represented an NGO body called the Japanese Women for Justice and Peace (JWJP). Given just two short minutes each to speak, we made a strong argument that the ‘comfort women’ were never ‘sex slaves.’ Many other Japanese spoke at the session, representing such organizations as the Japan Federation of Bar Association (JFBA), the Japan NGO Network for CEDAW (JNNC), the Japan National Group of Mentally Disabled People, the Child Poverty Action Osaka (CPAO), and a group organized to protect the rights of illegitimate children in Japan. All of the representatives were single-mindedly critical of Japan—saying such things as the ‘comfort women’ case represents ‘a hideous war crime for which Japan has not fully apologized,’ or ‘references to the comfort women have been deleted from school textbooks.’”
Suspected as “Japanese Secret Agents”
The attendees were all Japanese, as the topic of the sub-committee discussions was discrimination in Japan. Sub-committee officials were non-Japanese with apparently very little knowledge about Japan. Ms. Mizuta continues:
“I got the impression that the JFBA people were quite familiar with this type of session. They criticized the absence of a system in Japan to allow married couples to use different surnames, which they claimed constitutes discrimination against women; another NGO representative complained that four minority groups in Japan, including the Ryukyu islanders in Okinawa and the Ainu, are subject to ugly discrimination. I was appalled that our country, which is contributing significant funds to the UN, is in fact so blatantly denounced by our own people while many of us at home remain unaware of what is going on at this international body.”
Sugita and Yamamoto agreed to divide roles and focus on what each could best emphasize in the short time allowed them to present their cases. Yamamoto argued in English that “comfort women” monuments erected in the US with false and misleading information inscribed on them are exceedingly harmful to the reputation of Japan and its citizens. She stressed that these monuments are utilized for political purposes by the Chinese and the Koreans to defame Japan, not with the primary intent of protecting the human rights of the “comfort women.”
Sugita explained in French that the “comfort women” had not been coerced into sexual servitude; that the claim that coercion was used originated primarily from a fiction created in 1983 by a self-styled “comfort women” recruiter named Seiji Yoshida; and that the mass-circulation newspaper Asahi Shimbun finally retracted a series of articles based on Yoshida’s false testimony on August 5, 2014, after having insisted for 32 long years that the testimony was credible. She took strong issue with the world’s perception that the “comfort women” were “sex slaves” coerced into prostitution for the Japanese army.
Sugita says one of the subcommittee officials wondered aloud—as if to cross-examine them—if she and Yamamoto were not “agents of the Japanese government.” Another official admitted it was “the first time for this subcommittee to hear such an argument” and asked if they had facts to substantiate their case. This convinced her that at least someone on the committee was attaching importance to the truth about the “comfort women.”
Tony Marano, an American Japanophile who joined them in Genera as an observer, answered on behalf of Sugita and Yamamoto, introducing the results of the interrogations of a group of Korean “professional camp followers” conducted by the American forces in Burma toward the end of the war.
“Quoting a report done by the US Army,” Sugita explained, “Mr. Marano made a strong argument that the women were neither ‘sex slaves’ nor had been coerced into sexual servitude.” [The source Marano cited was “Report No. 49: Japanese Prisoners of War Interrogation on Prostitution,” compiled in 1944 by the US Office of War Information.]
Sugita says she was impressed that sub-committee officials repeatedly admitted it was the first time they ever heard that the “comfort women” had not been coerced, and asked time and again if the Japanese government had ample proof. She adds that it was invigorating to hear the chairman say: “From this time on, we will be sure to bear in mind that there obviously are two different ways to look at this issue.”
Doesn’t Sugita’s anecdote show that, while there previously were numerous NGO representatives criticizing Japan, there simply were no Japanese who would refute them with the indisputable facts at hand? It would also seem to indicate that Japanese NGO representatives who have frequented UNESCO sessions have overwhelmingly been left-leaning individuals out to denounce Japan no matter what.
Arbitrarily Labeling of “Comfort Women” as “Sex Slaves”
“Sex slaves” is an expression that appears to have settled in the minds of the international community as a symbol of the barbarism committed by the Imperial Japanese Army. Etsuro Totsuka, a lawyer, recalls in the May 2006 issue of the mini-magazine War and Sex that he came up with this expression “quite intuitively.” (Guide to the “Comfort Women” Issue, by Tsutomu Nishioka (Soshi-sha, Tokyo; December 2012).
Using this expression, Totsuka tenaciously urged the Sub-Commission on Preventing Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the UN Commission on Human Rights and its working group on modern slavery to condemn Japan for its supposed subjugation of the “comfort women.” As a result, a common notion that the “comfort women” were “sex slaves” spread across the international community. Had the Japanese government immediately disseminated pertinent information to counteract Totsuka’s allegations, it might have managed to prevent the term “sex slaves” from becoming so generally used in reference to the “comfort women.”
In July, a letter reached the Foreign Ministry from CEDAW, requesting that Japan provide compelling reasons for its assertion that the “comfort women” had not been coerced into prostitution. It is apparent that the remarks made by Sugita and her colleagues in Geneva have drawn CEDAW’s attention. This shows that, so long as pertinent information is provided to the UN, there is room in the international body for close attention and scrutiny concerning the “comfort women” issue. There appears to be a chance that Japan’s assertions will be supported at CEDAW’s plenary session next February—so long as Japan earnestly presents its case, making sure to support it with substantiated facts. Much depends on how the Foreign Ministry replies to the query from the UN.
The charge that the “comfort women” were “sex slaves” for the Japanese military was originally fabricated by Japanese, and then taken full advantage of by China and South Korea. But the Foreign Ministry has remained disappointingly reluctant to refute the charge. This time, however, thanks to two determined Japanese female activists who flew to UNESCO headquarters in Geneva at their own expense, the Japanese government has been given a chance to state its case concerning this issue. By all means, the Foreign Ministry must now clearly convince the international community that Japan never resorted to coercion in recruiting “comfort women.” After all, the Foreign Ministry has a \50 billion (nearly US$ 450 million) international public relations fund allocated for this year alone to disseminate such information internationally.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 676 in the October 22, 2015 issue of The Weekly Shincho)