BACKGROUND OF ‘COMFORT WOMEN’ ISSUE / Kono’s statement on ‘comfort women’ created misunderstanding
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Yomiuri News paper, Japan)
This is the third and last installment on the so-called “comfort women” controversy. The U.S. House of Representatives has been deliberating a draft resolution calling for the Japanese government to apologize over the matter by spurning the practice as slavery and human trafficking. Why has such a biased view of the issue prevailed?
What made the issue of “comfort women” a political and diplomatic one was an article in the Jan. 11, 1992, morning edition of The Asahi Shimbun. The newspaper reported that official documents and soldiers’ diaries that proved the wartime Japanese military’s involvement in the management of brothels and the recruitment of comfort women had been found at the library of the Defense Ministry’s National Institute for Defense Studies.
The article said Koreans accounted for about 80 percent of comfort women from the time that brothels were established and that the women, said to have totaled 80,000 to 200,000, were forcibly recruited under the name of volunteer corps after the Pacific War broke out.
As the newspaper’s report came out immediately before then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa’s visit to South Korea, it triggered anger among the South Korean public. During his visit to the nation, Miyazawa met with then South Korean President Roh Tae Woo and was quoted as telling him, “It can’t be denied that the Japanese military–in some way–was involved in the recruitment of comfort women and the management of comfort stations.”
On July 6, 1992, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Kato released the results of a study showing that the wartime military was directly involved in such things as the operation of “comfort stations,” but documents to prove that forcible recruitment actually took place were not found.
But as South Korea’s criticism over Japan’s actions continued, the government issued an official statement on the issue on Aug. 4, 1993, which became known as the Kono statement, after the government official who delivered it, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
But Kono’s statement included ambiguous expressions and gave the impression that the government had acknowledged forcible recruitment by wartime Japanese authorities.
Regarding the recruitment of comfort women, the statement said: “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, and so on, and that, at times, administrative and military personnel directly took part in the recruitment.”
The statement also said the recruitment, transfer and control of comfort women on the Korean Peninsula was “conducted generally against their will.” This expression became a strong indication that women, in most cases, were taken in a forcible manner.
By issuing the statement, the government aimed to seek a political settlement over the issue, as South Korea pressed the Japanese government hard to recognize that forcible recruitment actually took place. Then Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobuo Ishihara, who was involved in compiling the statement, said, “As there were no documents to prove forcible recruitment, it was concluded, out of comprehensively made judgments based on testimonies of [former] comfort women, that [recruitment] was forceful.”
Kono’s statement did not resolve the issue. Instead, it spread misunderstanding both inside and outside the nation on the “forcible recruitment” by government authorities.
A U.N. Human Rights Commission report, compiled by Radhika Coomaraswamy, referred to comfort women as sex slaves, and called on the Japanese government to compensate these women and to punish those responsible. The report reached these conclusions partly on the grounds of Kono’s statement.
Mike Honda, a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives who led lawmakers in submitting a draft resolution denouncing Japan over the comfort women issue, also referred to Kono’s statement as a basis for the draft resolution.
However, observers have pointed out, and The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the morning edition of March 16, that there are certain factors regarding Honda’s electoral district–such an increase in the number of residents of Chinese or South Korean origins, while the number of Japanese-origin residents has decreased–that may be behind why the Japanese-American lawmaker of California is leading such an initiative.
Given the Kono statement, the government in July 1995 established an incorporated foundation called the Asian Women’s Fund. It has provided a total of about 1.3 billion yen in compensation for 364 former comfort women. Letters of apology from successive prime ministers–Ryutaro Hashimoto, Keizo Obuchi, Yoshiro Mori and Junichiro Koizumi–also were sent to those women.
On Oct. 5 at the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated a stance to “inherit” Kono’s statement in principle, while denying forcible recruitment by government authorities.
(Apr. 1, 2007)