Japan’s Denial of Coercion in Wartime Comfort Women – and the Issue of Distrust

March 13, 2007

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo sparked anger among other Asian countries by saying there was no evidence to prove that women were forced to act as sex slaves during the Second World War. He also said afterward that Japan would not apologize again even if a U.S. House of Representatives resolution demanding an apology is adopted.

This has aroused fierce reaction from China, Korea, and the Philippines, questioning the sincerity of the apology made by Japanese former Chief Cabinet Secretary, Kono Yohei, in 1993 to victims of sex slavery during the war.

The reluctance of the Japanese government to face historic problems squarely probably explains why Japan has not been able to play a leading political role in Asia from the eyes of the liberalists, despite it has long become the strongest regional economy. Nations across Asia simply do not trust Japan, and are less than excited to see it developing its military capabilities.

As suggested by neo-liberalist Robert Keohane, interstate co-operation could only be expected if states have significant common interests. The distrust of other Asian countries over Japan’s sincerity to show repentance on its war crimes may imply that an international institution striving for economic and political co-operation in Asia will face a lot of obstacles. In contrast, Germany has emerged from the world wars and played an important role in NATO and EU.

This week Australia has announced that it will sign a defence agreement with Japan – but made it clear that it would not strain relations with Beijing….and that it would raise the issue of comfort women. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/6444207.stm

Do you think that an international institution like the East Asia Summit can contribute to long term security among Asian nations, and in particular, foster more trust between China and Japan? Why do apologies matter any more? Will they really add to regional trust and stability?

Mark Sabah and Ralph Chow

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5 Responses to “Japan’s Denial of Coercion in Wartime Comfort Women – and the Issue of Distrust”

  1. Philip Poon Says:

    Historically, since Meiji Restoration, Japan had been “in and out” of Asia a few times and scholars argued that, politically Japan had tried to” join the West and quit Asia” since World War II.
    Recently, there had been views, like those of Richard J. Samuels, that Japan should re-enter Asia in order to reap and participate, if not bandwagon, the benefits of the economic success of China.
    Time is required to rebuild trust and dialogues between leaders would definitely help. Platforms like the East Asia Summit though unlikely to result in immediate concrete bilateral or multilateral formal diplomatic cooperation treaties, would at least provide a forum of contact to enhance mutual trust and understanding.
    There are encouraging signs since Abe Shinzo took over the leadership last year and we see more bilateral contacts between the leaders in Japan and China. From this perspective, apology by Japan leaders for the wrongful acts in the war would serve to soothe the hearts of Japan’s neighbours and would help Japan to erase its bad reputation earned during the war and to reenter Asia.

  2. mark Says:

    why has this been posted in Liberalism??

  3. edwardng Says:

    The success of regional institutions or regimes requires individual countries to sacrifice at least some of their interests which are pooled together for the sake of cooperation and integration. The European Union is often cited as a successful example of integration. However, according to views of some scholars, East Asia nations are still in their process of nation-building. They quest for national interest and are unwilling to give up part of sovereignty to foster regional cooperation. The relatively ineffectiveness of the “loose” institution of the ASEAN may be attributed to this on-going process of nation building. Another obvious example is the territorial disputes of China and Japan over the East China Sea. Although China has expressed its will of joint development of the natural gas resources over the region, Japan have already turned down this proposal. It seems that Japan is reluctant to put aside its claimed sovereignty over the region and the prospect of compromise or cooperation between China and Japan is quite remote at least for the meantime. Even the two leading states in East Asia have not exhibited their sincere commitment to regional cooperation, not mention to other secondary states.

    In addition to the national building process, the absence of a long-run common goal on security aspects also help to explain why East Asia states are not keen in regional cooperation. Each state may have its own goals, but these are often divergent or even against each other. For instance, China has a strong commitment to the eventual unification between the Mainland and Taiwan but any Chinese actions supporting this aim (such as modernization of naval forces for Taiwan contingencies) is perceived by Japan as a security threat to the region. Sometimes the states may have some common goals, such as in the case of the North Korean nuclear crisis- a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula may be of the best interest of the majority of East Asia states- but each state may have its own calculus of interest and cooperation among them would be an uphill task.

  4. siwang Says:

    Both China and Japan take the “apology” issue seriously, as “apology” represents the foreign policy priority of the two states.
    Personally, I think China demands an “apology” partly because the generation who suffered a lot from the Sino-Japan war is still alive, and the later generations were taught to remember the shamed history. In contrast, Yasuhiro did not apologize, Koizumi did not apologize, and so does Abe. Japan refuses to apologize because the history has happened, and the current Abe government may not need to apologize for the wrong decision which was made by the previous government.
    The international institutions provide the platform for two countries to co-operation without talking about the Sino-Japan war. Thus, more and more co-operations may lead to a warmer relationship, and eventually get over what has happened in the past.

  5. Fragile Says:

    There are two parts to this comment:

    PART A

    Japan did formulate “an” apology for historical wrong, but China is rightly and understandably waiting for “the” apology… If, as you argue, the cooperation between the two countries is hindered by absence of the sincere apology on behalf of Japan, why would Japan simply not “surrender” to the expectations of the Chinese and Asian governments and public?

    1. Your logic in brief is: NO APPOLOGY => NO TRUST. The equivalent of this logic statement would be: If TRUST, then APPOLOGY. In other words, there is trust between Japan and China only if there is apology. But what if the reason there is no apology is precisely because there is no trust. That would mean that whether Japan would express its deep, deeper or deepest sincere apology, the reparative power would not be significant. Chinese government may very well use this “it’s too late” position as a “bargaining chip” and use it when, for instance, it needs to advance its interests in the region or the world while pointing fingers at Japan’s historical wrong doing while mobilizing the other countries also hurt by Japan.

    2. But on the other hand, Chinese people want the sincere apology to reconcile the past. In this case, let’s look at Japan’s incentives not to do so. Apart from actually acknowledging its wrong doing and the harm it caused, Japan would have to engage itself in the reparative process. That is to say, apology is not enough; one must take explicit responsibility and seek forgiveness! China has already agreed that it needs no financial compensation but rather -moral. So, apologizing would be a step towards repairing the moral damage, but it also may subject Japan to humiliation (even if that was not the intention) in front of the international community and possibly to its judgment in a legal sense. Actually, apologies can serve as remedies for international law violations, but in the case of Japan’s procrastination with apology and denial of its fault, this remedy may instead be turned into a “trap”; even though China does not want anything before the sincere apology, the international community (especially given increasing strength of the global civil society) may ask for much more after the sincere apology…

    3. The demand of the Chinese government’s the proper apology from Japan got particularly aroused during the Japan’s proposal for a seat in the UN Security Council. While, we may argue that Japan will never get that seat under any circumstances, would certainly NEVER have a chance at further bargaining its candidature for Security Council, if it openly admits its WWII sex camps.

    So, governments, international community and people may all have different views on the role of the apology.

    PART B

    The statement saying “that interstate co-operation could only be expected if states have significant common interests” is NOT what R. Koehane as neoliberal believes, per se, but is what liberal institutionalists believe. Koehane [together with L. Martin], actually does further to argue that co-operation can be expected when states have no fear of attaining unequal distribution of relative gains as a result of cooperation – something institutions help the states with by facilitating reciprocal equal information access and sharing. The statement saying “that interstate co-operation could only be expected if states have significant common interests” is not what R. Koehane as neoliberal believes, per se, but is what liberal institutionalists believe. Koehane [together with L. Martin], actually does further to argue that co-operation can be expected when states have no fear of attaining unequal distribution of relative gains as a result of cooperation – something institutions help the states with by facilitating reciprocal equal information access and sharing. So, in context, of the blog topic I “common interests” can still be linked to the issue of “trust” in a sense that universal agreement among states -on what is a historical wrong and what constitutes a sufficient apology [common insterest]-may be a prerequisite basis for mutual trust between states for further cooperation, as you argue, but not only, as neoliberals would argue.


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