Friday, May 24, 2013

A Kohno/Murayama-Abe-Hashimoto Dialogue

The following exchange took place between me and a Chinese analyst over the working week, edited for typos and augmented for clarity. I (think I) have his consent in reproducing his end.

1. “Just wondering what's your comment on Hashimoto, the Osaka Mayor's remakrs regarding the issue of ‘comfort women.’ I have a particular question on the possible consequences of politicians who delivers reckless remarks. If Mr. Hashimoto was a German politician, I assumed he'd already resigned from his post. 

“But obviously he's blaming people for their lack of understanding or ability to understand what he meant.  In this sense, are Japanese public more tolerant than in other countries to their public figures?”

If he were a cabinet minister, yes, I'm sure that he would have been forced to resign. But he's a mayor, and I'm sure local elected officials have said/done worse things unrelated to their job description and stayed on. The political damage has been done, though, and the Your Party has decided to break off cooperation with the Japan Restoration Party in the July upper house election, much to the delight of the DPJ
There a genuine need for an open debate on the where and what regarding the role of the Japanese government/military regarding the sexual demands of male soldiers and how all that compared to the other governments/military forces. But Hashimoto chose the wrong place and wrong interlocutors for his message--Hashimoto himself was also the wrong person to raise the issue.

A public figure must expect to have his words framed in a context not of his choosing.

Does that help?

2. “For an outsider like me, I'd assume that with the 1995 Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama remarks on the comfort women issue, we turned a page of history. Why is [it necessary] to revisit that part of history, bearing in mind that it's a sensitive issue to Korea and China?”

Let me give you the short version of my answer to an ever so slightly different question, namely: Why do Japanese politicians keep revisiting that part of history, bearing in mind that it's a sensitive issue to Korea and China? 

First of all, there are two statements: the Kohno statement, which addressed the comfort women issue, and the Murayama statement, which addressed the Japanese war of aggression. Most Japanese politicians who have looked into the first issue as well as much of the Japanese mainstream media believe that the Kohno statement is not based on good evidence and is at best highly misleading. (I happen to agree with them regard to the women from the Japanese archipelago, the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan (who were all at the time Japanese citizens) but disagree with some of them with regard to the women in the areas of China and Southeast Asia that were occupied by the Japanese military. I’ll leave it at that for now.) They believe that South Koreans and the Korean-Americans have, with the complicity of the leftwing media in Japan, managed to whitewash the true history of the Korean comfort women as part of its national myth at the expense of Japan. They hold plenty of frustration inside, which sometimes boils over when they are prodded by reporters and Diet members. The outcome is always disappointing for them, which generates more frustration in a vicious cycle.

The Murayama statement is a different animal. Only people on the rightwing fringe (I hope) fail to see the post-1937 war in China terms of aggression. A slightly larger (but still small) number probably fail to see the post-1931 establishment of Manchuria as aggression. However, the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese War and the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War are seen in a very different light by most Japanese. Specifically, they were wars fought between regional powers in a Hobbsian era of global imperialism, regional powers who were widely assumed to have militaries superior to that of contemporary Japan. The Chinese, no doubt, would frame it against the backdrop of the Opium War and other erosion of Chinese sovereignty by the Western powers, whose worldview the Japanese leadership seemingly adopted wholesale. As for Korea, the Koreans tell a story of a proud, independent nation subjugated by its longtime cultural (if not political) subordinate. The Japanese view is less clear, but there’s probably a large segment of the Japanese body politic that sees it this way: There was a dynasty ruling over a largely illiterate caste-ridden society complete with hereditary slaves and it was either us or the Russians. Yes, this sounds like the unedifying “everybody was doing it” defense. But have the Dutch apologized to the Indonesians? The British to the Burmese? The Americans to the Filipinos? The list goes on. So the story looks very different in the rest of Asia, explaining, perhaps, why they like us so much there. Does all this mean that the Murayama statement is wrong? No, but the commentary looks very different from the Chinese and Korean perspectives—as well as the American’s, which basically looks at its war in the Pacific through the Pearl Harbor perspective.

My take is that every nation will have its own national myth, not to the likings of others, perhaps, but not to be bent to their will either. If my advice had any currency, it would be: Never mind what they say; keep an eye on what they do.

“Polls show a majority of people are against Hashimoto's remarks. But he said there' s a problem with the polling method. If we take a look at the political elite group in Japan, how much support can Hashimoto count on? He's once considered a candidate for future PM, does the comfort women issue damage his chances?”

The other conservative parties (as well as some prospective JRP candidates) are avoiding him like the plague. I don’t think that he can fully recover from this reverse in his political fortunes in the foreseeable future. But then, the future is notoriously hard to foresee.

“People in Korea and China will naturally respond with concern over remarks like this in the sense that history will repeat itself in which Japan will impose its will on neighboring countries. I know it's an overestimated feeling toward the conservatives (so-called) in Japan. But people do have a concern there. Besides the comfort women issue, you have Prime Minister Abe's talk of "aggression" not being defined and his wearing a military uniform at an electoral event last month, among other controversial choices.”

Abe was wrong in one sense about the lack of consensus on the meaning of “aggression.” There’s a unanimous 1974 UN resolution on the definition of the term. The problem, of course, is in its application, and when did the opposing parties in any conflict ever end up in agreement? Ask the Turks and Armenians. The Israelis and Palestinians. The Mexicans and Americans. The Spaniards and Americans. The Filipinos and Americans. The Hawaiians and Americans. The Native Americans and Americans… The list goes on. Then ask, how do these differences in understanding affect the here-and-now, and the future? Do the Chinese and Koreans believe that the Japanese are willing and able to change the status quo by force? If so, that says more about them than it says about the Japanese in my view. Otherwise, be happy that Abe has reconfirmed the Japanese government’s commitment to those two statements. Did he want to? Probably not. But that’s the point. Isn’t confirmation by an unwilling prime minister worth far more than one from a willing one?

“How do people view that kind of gestures?”

Depends on the individual. “Comfort women” comments have far more negative domestic currency than those parsing “aggression.” BTW I was surprised that “aggression”=侵略. I had always assumed that it was “invasion”=侵略.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought so, too, at first, but then after thinking about it, governments do say "war of aggression" a fair bit if they are on the receiving end; if not,it's a war of (pre-emptive) self-defense."