Sunday, January 31, 2016

Monday in Washington, February 1, 2016

DEFENSE STRATEGY FOR THE NEXT PRESIDENT. 2/1, 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Brookings Institution. Speakers: Michael E. O'Hanlon, Co-Director, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence; Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Project on International Order and Strategy; Mackenzie, Eaglen, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute; James Miller, President, Adaptive Strategies, LLC.

2016 INDEX OF ECONOMIC FREEDOM: PROMOTING ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY AND EMPOWERMENT. 2/1, 1:00-2:00pm. Sponsor: Heritage Foundation. Speaker: Kevin Brady (R-TX), Chairman, House Ways and Means Committee. Report Link

FIFTEEN YEARS OF FIGHTING TERROR: LESSONS FOR THE 2016 U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES. 2/1, 1:00-2:30pm. Sponsor: Open Society Foundations. Speakers: Sarah Chayes, Senior Associate for the Democracy and Rule of Law Program, Carnegie Endowment; Richard Fontaine, President, Center for New American Security; Larry Attree, Head of Policy for Saferworld.

CAPITALISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY. 2/1, 3:00-7:00pm. Sponsor: K&L Gates LLP. Speakers: Denis Brosnan, President and CEO, Dimont; Bart Gordon, Partner, K&L Gates; Tom Quaadmann, Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Market Competitiveness; Damon Silvers, Director of Policy and Special Counsel, AFL-CIO; Jeff Brown, SVP, Charles Schwab Corporation; Dan Crowley, Partner, K&L Gates; Andres Gill, Director, U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Market Competitiveness; Dennis Kelleher, President and CEO, Better Markets. Moderators: Stephen Moore, Columnist, Economic Policy, Washington Times; Paul Atkins, CEO, Patomak Global Partners.

IOWA CAUCUS: EDELMAN TRUST BAROMETER 2016 CONFRONTING THE INEQUALITY OF TRUST. 2/1, 5:00-6:15pm. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: Richard Edelman, President and CEO, Edelman; Mark Warner, U.S. Senator, D-VA.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Monday in Washington, January 25, 2016

Washington had a record breaking snow storm over the weekend. The airports will not open until Monday. Thus, it is unlikely that many of these events will take place. Call or check online before you venture out.

THE FOREIGN SOVEREIGN IMMUNITIES ACT AT FORTY: U.S. AND INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES. 8:30am-5:30pm. Sponsors: Georgetown Law; Center for Transnational Business and the Law. Notable Speakers: Diane P. Wood, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit; Mary McLeod, Acting Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State; Ed Kneedler, Deputy Solicitor General, US Department of Justice; Lori Damrosch, President, American Society of International Law; Ed Kneedler, Deputy Solicitor General, US Department of Justice.

THE FUTURE AND POTENTIAL OF AFRICAN ENERGY AND POWER AFRICA ROAD MAP. 9:30-11:00am. Sponsor: U.S. Agency for International Development. Speakers: U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Gayle Smith; National Security Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice; Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall; President of the World Bank Group Jim Yong Kim; President of the African Development Bank Group Akinwumi Adesina; Power Africa Coordinator Andrew Herscowitz.

IS RUSSIA PUNCHING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT? 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Eurasia Program, CSIS;. Speakers: Ruslan Pukhov, Director, Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Moderator: Olga Oliker, Senior Adviser and Director, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS.

THE RUSSIAN-CHINESE RELATIONSHIP IN THE ARCTIC: OVERLAPPING INTERESTS AND DIVERGENCES. 3:00-4:30pm. Speakers: Dr. Michał Łuszczuk, Assistant Professor of International Relations, Maria Curie Sklodowska University (Lublin, Poland) and Visiting Fulbright Scholar, IERES.

CHINA, SOUTHEAST ASIA AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: OBSERVATIONS FROM THE FIELD. 3:30-5:00pm.Sponsor:  Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. Speaker: Jason Tower, Northeast Asia Quaker International Affairs Representative.

THE SYRIAN REFUGEE CRISIS AND THE UNITED STATES. 10:00-11:30am. Sponsor: Brookings Institution. Speakers: Elizabeth Ferris, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Project on International Order and Strategy, Brookings; William Galston, Senior Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings; Robert McKenzie, Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy Center for the Middle East Policy, U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, Brookings. Moderator: Daniel Byman, Research Director, Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings.

AMERICA’S INVISIBLE WARS. 11:00am-12:30pm. Sponsor: Cato Institute. Speakers: Emma Ashford, Visiting Research Fellow, Cato Institute; Bronwyn Bruton, Deputy Director, Africa Center, Atlantic Council; Charles Schmitz, Professor, Towson University, Vice President, American Institute for Yemeni Studies; Moeed Yusuf, Director, South Asia Programs, United States Institute of Peace; Moderator: Mark Mazzetti, Correspondent, The New York Times.

THE CHANGING NATURE OF THE WAR ON TERROR. 2:00-3:00pm. Sponsor: International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Speakers: Daniel Byman, Professor, Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service;Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution; Bruce Hoffman, Professor and Director, Georgetown University Center for Security Studies; Senior Fellow, US Military Academy Combating Terrorism Center; Chair: Donald Daniel, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University.

CAPITALISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY. 3:00-5:00pm. Sponsor: K&L Gates LLP. Speakers: Denis Brosnan, President and CEO, Dimont; Bart Gordon, Partner, K&L Gates; Tom Quaadmann, Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Market Competitiveness; Damon Silvers, Director of Policy and Special Counsel, AFL-CIO; Jeff Brown, SVP, Charles Schwab Corporation; Dan Crowley, Partner, K&L Gates; Andres Gill, Director, U.S. Chamber Center for Capital Market Competitiveness; Dennis Kelleher, President and CEO, Better Markets. Moderators: Stephen Moore, Columnist, Economic Policy, Washington Times; Paul Atkins, CEO, Patomak Global Partners.

IS THE NARRATIVE OF “THE BIG SHORT” THE BEST EXPLANATION OF THE FINANCIAL CRISIS? 4:00-7:30pm. Sponsor: Brookings Institution. Speakers: Ted Gayer, Vice President and Director, Economic Studies, Senior Fellow, Joseph A. Pechman; Adam McKay, Director, The Big Short, Gillian Tett, U.S. Managing Editor, Financial Times; Vincent Reinhart, Visiting Scholar, American Enterprise Institute; Adam Davidson, Co-founder and Contributor, Planet Money, NPR, Consultant, The Big Short movie; Jamies Mai, Chief Investment Officer, Cornwall Capital. Moderator: David Wessel, Director, Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies.

THE HOLOCAUST AS HISTORY AND WARNING. 4:00-5:30pm. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speaker: Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor, Yale University, member, Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

 5:30pm. Sponsor: Politico. Speakers: former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Nippon Kaigi and the Radical Conservative Project to Take Back Japan to the 1930s

By David McNeill who writes for The Independent and other publications, including The Irish Times and The Economist. An Asia-Pacific Journal editor, he is a coauthor of Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan's Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster (Palgrave Macmillan) and an APP member.
The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 13, Issue. 48, No. 4, December 14, 2015

In September 2015, several hundred mainly foreign academics and journalists received unsolicited copies of two poorly written books from Japan, accompanied by a signed letter from politician Inoguchi Kuniko. "In East Asia, the regional history of the 20th century has been incorrectly distorted (sic) by some individuals due to their current domestic political ambitions,” said the letter. “I believe it is important for you, as a highly esteemed member of the academic and policy circles (sic), to look into the books which I am enclosing with this letter."

The first of the books, “History Wars,” published by the Sankei Shimbun, a conservative newspaper, said records of Japanese misconduct during World War II were exaggerated or false. China and South Korea have used these claims to wage a long battle in America to distort views of the war, with the goal of “weakening the US-Japan alliance,” it said. “Japan’s postwar governments have not only failed to wage an effective rebuttal against the propaganda maneuvers of Japan’s adversaries, but have also fallen witlessly into their…traps.”

In “Getting Over it! Why Korea Needs to Stop Bashing Japan,” Sonfa Oh, a naturalized Japanese academic originally from South Korea, argues that successive generations of Korean leaders have resorted to historical fabrication, and “capricious, opportunistic egoism” to damage Japan and its reputation around the world. Japanese rule of Korea from 1910–1945 was essentially benign, writes Oh. The Japan in both publications is cast as well meaning, stoic and endlessly forbearing in its dealings with its mendacious, two-faced neighbors.

The mass mail-shot is part of an occasionally clumsy but well-funded attempt to transform international perceptions of Japan. A campaign of “strategic communications,” with a budget of over half-a-billion dollars, has been launched to counter negative PR and cultivate a generation of pro-Japanese foreign commentators. Japanese embassies and consulates have been instructed to be more proactive in challenging perceived slights, such as foreign textbooks that stir the history pot. Brookings, Carnegie, CSIS and other think tanks have been given millions of dollars to promote Japan; millions more has gone to support chairs at Columbia, Georgetown and MIT universities.

At the same time, an informal list of friends and foes appears to have emerged. Outside Japan, those considered allies include a small group of mainly US-based academics, journalists and rightwing bloggers. The foreign enemies list is topped by The New York Times, which neoconservatives have long seen as leftwing and anti-Japanese. The hundreds of foreign scholars who signed the 2015 Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan, an attempt to counter the revisionist drift under the Abe administration, are also under suspicion. It is the letter that appears to have prompted the mailing.

The risk of overreach in this project is never far away. In one case, Japanese foreign ministry officials accused Germany’s largest business newspaper, Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, of carrying pro-Chinese propaganda. Its Tokyo-based correspondent Carsten Germis wrote a widely circulated article lamenting what he called a crude government attempt to censor views it disliked. Dispatches of diplomats to the offices of history professors and publishers, and attempts to nudge foreign journalists away from academics critical of the government, have also triggered PR blowback.

The book campaign struck some, therefore, as naïve, at best. Did Inoguchi think that a few hundred pages of thin, selectively argued academic gruel might tilt a complex debate that has waged for years in favor of Abe style conservatism? The point, she insists, is to circulate ideas that “have not been represented” in the mainstream. “I felt I was in a position to work with others in enhancing views about what we have done since the war, as a new nation state,” she said. “It is not to justify anything,” she added, citing her own credentials as a fighter for women’s rights, in Korea and elsewhere.

Inoguchi’s decision to lend her imprimatur to the books was considered surprising. A political scientist and internationalist known for work on disarmament and gender issues, she had not been previously been linked with Japanese neo-conservatism. One clue to her apparent shift is found in her association with Nippon Kaigi, or the Japan Conference. Interviewed by telephone, Inoguchi said that she is a member of the Chiba Prefectural branch of the lobby group, but insists they part company on one issue: “If they try to justify the past, that is the point on which I disagree. I don’t try to rewrite history; it cannot be undone.”

Justifying the uncomfortable past — and recasting it for 21st Century Japan is, however, precisely the mission of Nippon Kaigi. The group’s charter lists six key goals: “respect the Imperial Family as the center of Japanese life;” nurture patriotism; promote a new Constitution “based on our nation’s true characteristics;” protect the sovereignty and honor of the nation’s independence; nurture young people to grow up with pride and love for their nation; and establish a strong army and promote the nation's status abroad.

Box: Nippon Kaigi acts based on the following principles:

1) Respect the Imperial Family, the center of a unified Japan, and nurture compatriotism.

2) Promote a new Constitution based on our nation's true characteristics.

3) Protect the sovereignty and honor of our independent state and realize responsible politics that serve peace and order.

4) Revive tradition in education and nurture young people to grow up with pride and love for their nation.

5) Cultivate a spirit to protect the nation and to provide it with enough defensive power to secure its safety and contribute to world peace.

6) Widen the understanding of the world, aim to co-exist (with others) and contribute to promoting the nation's status in the global community and (to building) friendship (with other nations).

Source: Nippon Kaigi

In practice, says Tawara Yoshifumi, who heads the nonprofit group Children and Textbooks Japan Network 21, which monitors neo-conservative movements, this is a shopping list of revisionist causes: applaud Japan’s wartime campaign to “liberate” Asia from Western colonialism; rebuild the armed forces, instill patriotism among students brainwashed by “leftwing” teachers and revere the Emperor as he was worshipped before the calamity of World War II.

“They have trouble accepting the reality that Japan lost the war,” explains Kobayashi Setsu, a leading constitutional scholar and former Nippon Kaigi member. Kobayashi says the group is run by people who want to revive Japan’s prewar Meiji Constitution, which served as the basic law before it was replaced during the US-led Allied Occupation between 1945 and 1952. Indeed, some, he says, are descendants of the people who started the war and are nostalgic for Japan’s great power status.

Nippon Kaigi’s platform is rooted in profound resentment about the postwar settlement. Its supporters say the liberal Constitution, with its “masochistic” education system, has emasculated Japan. They despise the so-called victory justice meted out at the Tokyo war crimes trials and the pacifist clause that neutered the country’s armed forces. Hyakuta Naoki, Nippon Kaigi sympathizer, bestselling author and former governor of NHK, Japan’s public service broadcaster, expressed some of these core sentiments during a now infamous speech in 2014.

Campaigning for Tamogami Toshio, the ex-Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff who was running for Tokyo governor, Hyakuta called the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo and and the incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which collectively killed perhaps 300,000 people, “cruel massacres.” The Tokyo war crimes trial, he said, was “conducted to cover up those atrocities.” It wasn’t only the Japanese who committed war crimes, and there was no reason to teach such things to children, he said. “I want to first teach children what a wonderful nation Japan is.”

The drive to rewrite not just the history of World War II, but exhume the foundations laid down by the Occupation during the years after, naturally invites serious tensions with Japan’s US sponsor. In April 2015, for example, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo delivered a speech to both the US Senate and House of Representatives — the first by a Japanese leader — lauding deepening trade ties and the military alliance with America. The talk, fine-tuned for his American audience by speechwriter Taniguchi Tomohiko, cast Abe as a defender of strongdemocratic principles, a leader with “deep repentance” for the “lost dreams of young Americans” who died fighting Japan in World War II.

Conspicuously missing, noted veteran Japan watcher Gavan McCormack, were the core Abe values that Congress could hardly be expected to share: “take back Japan,” “cast off the postwar regime” and revise the U.S.-imposed Constitution; teach “correct” history to make the country’s youth proud and “revere the spirits of Japan’s war dead,” including those convicted as war criminals. Washington seems unaware of these contradictions, or is inclined to overlook them in return for Abe’s promise of greater military cooperation and support for TPP.

Much of the far-right agenda in Japan slips past American politicians, says Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor of modern Japanese history at Australian National University. “They don’t really see how this will play out in East Asia because they need the U.S. bases (in Japan),” she says. “The Abe administration doesn’t think Japan did anything wrong in the war — they just think it was unfortunate that they lost.”

Neoconservative values increasingly seep into the core of Japanese political life. The latest salvo comes in the form of a panel, reporting directly to Abe that will probe the verdicts of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (1946–1948). The verdicts, which condemned Japan’s six wartime leaders to death, were “based on a poorly constructed” perception of history, said Inada Tomomi, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s Policy Research Council.

Abe has already partially satisfied a key demand of his supporters — that Japan end the shameful apology diplomacy of the postwar years. The nation’s gold standard mea culpa, issued by socialist prime minister Murayama Tomiichi in 1995, has been overlaid by a carefully worded but ambiguous statement in which Abe stopped short of offering his own words of remorse but said Japan “must not let…generations to come…be predestined to apologize.”

The prospect that radical conservatives might dismantle Japan’s entire postwar political architecture no longer looks far-fetched. The LDP has proposed changes to virtually all 103 articles of the 1947 constitution that would tip the balance away from individual rights and toward duties to the state. They have “reinterpreted” the Constitution to expand the nation’s military role abroad. Nationalists in the Cabinet have repeatedly suggested that much of the accepted narrative of World War II, complete with its grim catalogue of war atrocities, be wished away The education ministry has mandated this year that school textbooks must reflect the government position on history and territorial issues.

The blueprint for the next stage in the revolution was laid out to an estimated 11,000 supporters in Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan hall on November 10th, 2015. The organizers of Utsukushii Nihon no Kenpo wo Tsukuru Kokumin no Kai (People's association for creating a Constitution for beautiful Japan), claim to have collected signatures from nearly 4.5 million people, including 422 Diet members, calling for a national referendum in the summer of 2016. The declared aim is to restore traditional family values, and strengthen Japan’s defenses. Speaker after speaker warned about the rise of China and the decline of the United States. “Japan faces its worst crisis” since the war but the constitution has “hobbled” the country, said Hyakuta.

Among those listening was Eto Seiichi, a special adviser to Abe, ex-education minister Shimomura Hakubun, Takeo Hiranuma, the head of the parliamentary league of Nippon Kaigi, and lawmakers Arimura Haruko and Mihara Junko. The chair was conservative journalist Sakurai Yoshiko, a key figure in the drive to get 10 million signatures. Her status is recognition, says Tomomi Yamaguchi, an anthropologist at Montana State University, that changing the attitudes of women, many of whom admire Japan’s long-standing pacifism, will be crucial. Abe himself sent a prerecorded message in which he said the “time had come” to seek a Constitution suitable for the 21st century.”

About a third of the Diet and well over half of Abe’s 19-member Cabinet support Nippon Kaigi. All are members of its parliamentary league. Abe is its “special adviser.” The group has more than 230 local chapters, around 38,000 fee-paying members and a network that reaches deep into the government. Its members or affiliates include former heads of large corporations; university presidents, Self-Defense Force chiefs of staff,several party chiefs and at least one former chief justice, who chaired the group for several years.

Despite this impressive firepower, determining the group’s exact influence is difficult. The country’s media mostly shies away from covering them, says Sugano Tamotsu, a journalist and researcher. Sugano believes its most important achievement has been to unite right wing movements under a like-minded program. “Throughout 40 years of history,” Sugano says, “it has been sending almost the same message and focusing on the same priority: educating the young generation.”

Nippon Kaigi's signature drives have helped pass laws and implement legal changes in local councils and in the Diet, Yamaguchi says. They have helped banish much “left wing” teaching from schools and have brought back the tradition of singing the national anthem and standing for the Hinomaru flag, both associated with Japan’s wartime empire. A key supporter is former Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro, who mandated punishment for teachers who refuse to stand, face the flag and sing the anthem during school ceremonies.

The group was formed in 1997, in reaction to what was arguably a high point in postwar liberal education, by politicians, intellectuals and religious figures. Its small Meguro office in Tokyo still shares a building with Seicho no Ie (House of Growth), a right-wing religious cult and a key tributary of one of the two organizations that merged to form Nippon Kaigi, the Society to Protect Japan (Nihon wo Mamorukai) (the other was the People’s Conference to Protect Japan, or Nihon wo Mamoru Kokumin Kaigi). The publisher of Sonfa Oh's book is Tachibana Shuppan, which has links to the cult and the religious and political right.

A decade ago, the group collected 3.6 million signatures demanding revisions to the education law that would make it compulsory to teach children patriotism. The group wants Abe to continue to visit Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, though such pilgrimages are seen in much of Asia as an endorsement of the leaders enshrined there and their war aims. Abe triggered a major diplomatic row with South Korea and China when he last went in 2013. The group’s growing political heft is partly credited with increasingly unabashed displays of allegiance to the shrine — a record 168 Diet members visited during the spring festival of 2013.

Supporters have campaigned against anything that shows Japan’s wartime behavior in a bad light, bombarding exhibitions on war crimes, for example, with petitions and phone calls. A closely allied group is the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership. In the late 19th century, the country’s oldest religion, Shinto, was reinvented as a tool of state, serving as an ideology that helped mobilize Japanese to fight wars in the emperor’s name. In 2007, lobbying by the association and Nippon Kaigi helped to persuade the government to makeApril 29a national holiday in honor of wartime monarch Hirohito.

Even opponents are impressed at how radical conservatives have quietly transformed the landscape of Japanese politics. Nippon Kaigi accepts that “international and domestic events” – notably the rise of China and shifting public opinion - “have changed the national consciousness” and had a major impact onthe political beliefs of national and local politicians. “Such a change is one important factorin the light of implementing our basic principles,” it says. Another aim is to “co-exist and build friendship with other nations.” One of the contradictions of their success is that they might achieve exactly the opposite.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Japan-ROK pact on ‘comfort women’

all three ships eventually became
troop/POW transports
Will it help heal the wounds?

by Dr. Mike M. Mochizuki, holds the Japan-US Relations Chair in Memory of Gaston Sigur at George Washington University. He co-directs the “Memory and Reconciliation in the Asia-Pacific” research and policy project of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies. He is co-editing a book entitled Reconciling Rivals: War, Memory, and Security in East Asia. He is a board member of APP.

First published in The Oriental Economist, January 2016.

On December 28th, instead of signing a written document, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se of the Republic of Korea (ROK) read carefully crafted statements regarding their respective government’s understanding of a bilateral agreement to address the “comfort women” issue. Comfort women is the euphemism used to describe women coerced into providing sexual services for the Japanese military during World War II. Soon after this public announcement, Prime Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Park Geun-Hye of the ROK spoke on the phone to confirm their intention to implement the agreement and to strengthen bilateral cooperation. Like most international deals forged after difficult negotiations, this agreement entailed a delicate compromise. Its political viability will depend on perceptions of fairness on both sides about the concessions made and expectations about the outcomes achieved.

A delicate compromise
During the negotiations, the South Korean government sought to address as much as possible the demands of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery for Japan (hereafter Korean Council) and the comfort women survivors whom this non-governmental organization represented. The Korean Council had been insisting that the Japanese government give an official and irreversible apology to the comfort women, admit legal responsibility, and provide compensation legally designated as reparations. From the Korean Council’s perspective, an official and irreversible apology would ide- ally be a resolution passed by the Japanese Diet, the highest organ of state power; but the council appeared open to an apology that had the imprimatur of a Japanese Cabinet decision like the August 15, 1995 Murayama Statement.

In the December 28 agreement, Tokyo did not provide an apology that was explicitly approved by the Japanese Cabinet or the National Diet, did not admit to legal responsibility, and did not offer legal reparations. But it went a bit further than the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) initiative, which was inaugurated by Japan in 1995. Under the AWF program, Japanese Prime Ministers sent letters to former comfort women that extended their “most sincere apologies and remorse” and acknowledged Japan’s “moral responsibilities” as well as “an involvement of the Japanese military authorities.”

In making the new agreement, Prime Minister Abe not only reiterated the language of the previous apology and acknowledgment of Japanese military involvement, but also declared “the Government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.” While the Japanese statement of December 28 refrained from referring to legal responsibility, it was explicit about the government’s awareness of responsibilities. By not using the modifier “moral,” which was included in the Prime Minister’s apology letters under the AWF, Abe’s apology implied that the government’s responsibilities were not just moral in nature.

In the AWF program, state funds had been allocated to provide medical and welfare support—¥3 million ($25,000) per person—to Korean comfort women survivors, and private contributions were to be used for “atonement” money, ¥2 million ($17,000) per person. Arguing that this amounted to charity rather than legal reparations, many Korean comfort women survivors with the encouragement of the Korean Council refused this Japanese contribution. This time around, the Japanese government agreed to make “a one-time contribution” of ¥1 billion yen ($8.3 million) from the public budget to a foundation established by the South Korean government to provide support to the comfort women (there are just 46 still alive) and to engage in Japan-ROK cooperative projects “for recovering the honor and dignity and healing the psychological wounds of all former comfort women.”

“No more demands for apologies”
The Abe government was seeking an agreement that would be final. In the view of many Japanese, Japan had addressed the issue of its colonial and wartime responsibility with South Korea on previous occasions, such as through the 1965 normalization process and the 1995 Asian Women’s Fund; but rather than finalizing the issue, South Korea kept “moving the goal post.” Not only did Japan want a new agreement to resolve the comfort women issue once and for all, but also it did not want to undermine the parameters of the 1965 Normalization Treaty by acknowledging legal responsibility or offering legal reparations. Moreover, Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party sought to have the statue of a girl depicting a comfort woman, located across the street from the Japan Embassy in Seoul, removed and, if possible, bring an end to building comparable comfort women statues and memorials in the US. Finally, Tokyo wanted to stop criticisms of Japan in UN–related bodies as well as other international organizations. It was irritated that South Korea was preparing materials concerning comfort women to be included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.

As already noted, Japan succeeded in avoiding “legal responsibility” and “legal reparations” in the deal. It also got Foreign Minister Yun to state that the “issue is resolved finally and irreversibly.” Moreover, the fact that the new foundation would be established by South Korea made it difficult for Seoul to backtrack. Although South Korea made no public promise to remove the comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese Embassy, it acknowledged Japan’s concern about the statue “from the viewpoint of preventing any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity,” and it agreed to “strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner through taking measures such as consulting with related organizations.” The ROK government also declared that it would refrain, together with the Japanese government, from “accusing or criticizing each other regarding this issue in the international community, including at the United Nations” under the condition that the Japanese government would implement the bilateral agreement.

In short, both sides made concessions while achieving an outcome that moved toward their original objectives. South Korea acquiesced to Japan’s opposition to legal responsibility and legal reparations, but it did get Japan to commit public funds to establish a South Korean foundation to address the comfort women issue and to have the Japanese Prime Minister express “his heartfelt apology and remorse” and acknowledge government responsibilities. Moreover, the irreversibility of the agreement suggested that Abe and other like-minded Japanese conservatives would have to refrain from future moves to repeal or dilute the 1993 Kono Statement of apology toward comfort women. Japan acquiesced to an acknowledgment of Japanese military involvement and government responsibility, but it did get South Korea to state that the agreement was final and that the government would refrain from criticizing Japan in the international community.

Public reaction: Japan vs. Korea
With only 46 Korean comfort women survivors alive, both Seoul and Tokyo recognized the urgency of reaching an agreement. Washington was also encouraging the two sides to resolve this issue, not only for humanitarian and moral reasons, but also for geopolitical ones. Given North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and provocative behavior and the increasing assertiveness of a rising China, US policymakers have been concerned that continuing animosity between its two Northeast Asian allies would have major opportunity costs for promoting regional security cooperation and could even encourage South Korea’s strategic drift toward China. Although President Park had initially rebuffed Japanese overtures to improve bilateral relations, growing concerns about her country’s economy as well as the North Korean threat probably convinced her to assume the risks of negotiating an agreement on the comfort women issue with the Abe government. The ambiguities in the agreement and different expectations on each side, however, will make its implementation politically challenging.

On the Japanese side, the political reception has been generally positive. Even liberal and leftist leaders who have been critical of Abe have expressed their support of the agreement. Most of the grumbling has come from the conservative camp. Several prominent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) politicians have insisted that the comfort woman statue near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul must be removed expeditiously, and a few have complained that the agreement did not mention the comfort women statues and memorials in the United States or that Abe did not need to apologize and compromise since South Korea is entirely to blame for the deterioration in bilateral relations. Despite this discontent, given his nationalist credentials, Abe should be able to manage and deflect intra-LDP opposition.

President Park faces a more serious political predicament. Although her ruling Saenuri Party has come out in support of the agreement, the opposition Minjoo Party has called for rescinding it and renegotiating with Japan. With a National Assembly election scheduled for April 2016, the opposition will be tempted to make this an election issue. According to Korean opinion surveys conducted soon after the agreement was announced, most South Koreans are critical of the agreement and question the sincerity of Abe’s apology. According to one poll, 74% are opposed to moving the comfort woman statue.

Much hinges on whether the Korean Council and the comfort women survivors will be able to block implementation of the agreement. The Korean Council has publicly denounced the agreement and expressed its strong opposition to removing the statue, which the organization erected in 2011 to commemorate the thousandth time demonstrators staged their regular Wednesday protest in front of the Japanese Embassy. In a dramatic display of anger, comfort women survivors affiliated with the Korean Council criticized a senior Korean diplomat, who visited to explain the agreement, for not consulting them before reaching the accord. A Korean diplomatic spokesperson later revealed during a press briefing that the government had been consulting with former comfort women and their support organizations during the negotiations.

The handling of the comfort woman statue could unravel the agreement. Some Japanese media outlets have reported that the Japanese government sees the statue’s removal as a precondition for the allocation of public funds for the foundation in South Korea. Korean officials have vehemently dismissed such reports as notorious attempts to unravel the accord. Given the current Korean sentiment against moving the statue, a decision by Japan to withhold funding until the statue issue is resolved would likely intensify Korean public opposition to the pact itself. A better course would be to see a resolution of the statue issue as a possible outcome of a healing and reconciliation process that a Japanese state-funded foundation in South Korea would promote. Prime Minister Abe faces a difficult decision whether or not to go ahead with funding the new South Korean foundation even without progress on the statue issue. To save the agreement, he might have to go against his own preferences while simultaneously finding a way to placate his nationalist political base.

A path to historical reconciliation
Successful implementation of the December 28 accord may open the way to regular Japan-South Korea summit meetings, greater bilateral security cooperation, and deeper economic relations. But just as the October 1998 historic summit between then Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and President Kim Dae-Jung failed to promote long-term historical reconciliation, the recent comfort women agreement will be insufficient. Reconciliation requires more than interstate bargains built on compromises. The societies of both nations must be engaged and involved to foster empathy and trust. All too often, Japanese leaders and citizens focus on what it would take to bring an end to historical issues and to make relations with South Korea truly future-oriented. Deep reconciliation at the societal level, however, is not some diplomatically established goal post, but rather an ongoing and never-ending process. State-to-state agreements can facilitate the process, but actions and processes that resonate with the public are essential.

Prime Minister Abe, representing the country that is responsible for the comfort women’s suffering, should personally visit the comfort women survivors and directly express his apologies and remorse. Of course, such an act would involve substantial political risks, but it is precisely the riskiness of it that would make the apologies powerful and sincere. The new foundation to be established in South Korea with Japanese money could also embrace the “Butterfly Fund” proposed by several comfort women survivors and established by the Korean Council. This fund now allocates donations received in honor of the comfort women to victims of sexual violence during war in other countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Vietnam. Japan could even consider an additional contribution specifically to this fund as part of Prime Minister Abe’s campaign to promote women’s rights and empowerment throughout the world.

Finally, Japan together with South Korea and the United States should promote non-governmental international institutions for research, exchanges, and education regarding not only the comfort women issue, but also the many other historical issues that cause tensions in East Asia. Such an initiative would be consistent with Abe’s August 14, 2015 statement in which he declared, “We Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humility, and pass it on to the future.”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Japan’s Largest and Most Influential Rightwing Organization

An Introduction to Nippon Kaigi [Japan Council/Conference]
by Shinogase Yuji, Hayashi Keita and Sato Kei, Tokyo Shimbun journalists.

This article appeared in Tokyo Shimbun, July 31, 2014, Translated by J. Victor Koschmann, Professor of History at Cornell University and an Asia-Pacific Journal contributing editor.

Asia-Pacific Journal, December 14, 2015, Volume 13 | Issue 48 | Number 5

Sexist heckling, discriminatory language on Twitter, etc. A significant number of the local politicians who have recently made spectacles of themselves are members of the local assemblyman’s alliance affiliated with Japan’s largest rightwing organization, Nippon Kaigi (Japan Council [Conference]). Moreover, the influence of this alliance extends beyond local areas to impact the centers of political power. Prime Minister Abe Shinzō is special adviser to the Japan Council-affiliated National Diet Member Discussion Group [Kokkai Giin Kondankai], and this organization’s advocacy of positions such as Constitutional revision, the right of collective self-defense, and respect for traditional family values coincides perfectly with the Prime Minister’s political views. We have thoroughly investigated the poorly understood organization called Japan Council.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Assemblyman, Suzuki Akihiro, who in June 2015 heckled a female assemblyman during her speech with phrases like, “Shouldn’t you just hurry and get married?” is a member of a local assemblyman’s alliance affiliated with Nippon Kaigi, often rendered in English as Japan Council [more often Conference].

“On most issues I share the position (of Japan Council),” Suzuki told us. He had been dispassionately discussing reportage in our newspaper column, “Latest From the Special News Bureau” [Kochira Tokuhōbu]. In August 2012, he was one of those who, together with some other members of the same assemblyman’s alliance, went ashore on the Senkaku Islands, despite Japanese government “No trespassing” signs. He has also caused commotions by engaging in other forms of hawkish behavior. Although it didn’t attract the same level of attention as the sexist heckling, in Hokkaido, another member of the Japan Council-affiliated local assemblyman’s alliance created a stir. When someone tweeted that he planned to commit suicide in opposition to Japan’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions, Hokkaido assemblyman Onodera Masaru called it “stupid,” and, in replying to criticism, made discriminatory remarks.

On the web, Onodera is sometimes ridiculed as “netouyo giin [internet right wing assemblyman]”. To this he says, “I love Japan, and I want to instill in the next generation a concern with how to make Japan a better country. That’s my only intent.”

So, what is “Japan Council,” anyway? It was formed on July 5, 1997 through a merger of the “Society to Defend Japan,” a union of conservative religious organizations, with the “National Association to Defend Japan,” which attracted conservative cultural and intellectual luminaries along with former military leaders. The first chairman of Japan Council was former Chief Justice of the Japanese Supreme Court, Miyoshi Tatsu. The statement of movement policy, whose aim is to “build a country to be proud of,” lists such elements as promoting a feeling of brotherhood, enacting a new Constitution, supporting youths who have pride in and love for their country, and contributing to world peace by establishing and equipping a defense force capable of fully guaranteeing Japan’s security.

Japan Council ranks among Japan’s largest private rightwing associations. According to Japan Council itself, its members number upwards of 35,000. In addition to some 47 prefectural and local headquarters, it also maintains 228 branch offices.

Principal Leaders of the Japan Council National Diet Member Discussion Group

Special Advisors Asō Tarō, Abe Shinzō
Advisors Tanigaki Teiichi, Ishihara Shintarō, Kamei Shizuka
Consultants Nukaga Fukushirō, Isawa Shigeru, Santō Akiko,
Konoike Yoshitada
Chairman Hiranuma Takeo
Acting Chairman Nakasone Hirofumi
Vice-Chairmen Furuya Keiji, Mori Hidesuke, Koike Yuriko, Shimomura Hirofumi, Suga Yoshihide, Takaichi Sanae, Shindō Yoshitaka,
Watanabe Shu, Matsubara Hitoshi, Fujii Takao,
Nakayama Nariaki, Shōno Yorihisa, Nishimura Shingō,
Matsumoto Seiko, Yamazaki Tsutomu
Secretary General Etō Seiichi
Policy Discussion Council
Chairman Yamatani Eriko
Chief Administrator Washio Eiichirō

Japan Council also maintains many close ties with national government and politics. The Japan Council’s National Diet Member Discussion Group (Chairman: Hiranuma Takeo), which came into being concurrently with Japan Council itself, has 289 members as of May 2015. The organization has Prime Minister Abe Shinzō and Vice Prime Minister Aso Tarō (concurrently Minister of Finance) as special advisers, and its Secretary General is official adviser to the Prime Minister, Etō Seiichi. Judging from the list of Diet members who belong to this organization, according to the September 2009 issue of the monthly magazine for members, Breath of the Nation (Nippon no Ibuki), 13 out of the 19 members of the Abe cabinet are also members of the National Diet Members Discussion Council. It might justly be said that Abe has a “Japan Council cabinet.”

The local assemblymen’s alliance referred to above was organized in 2007, when Japan Council had already been in operation for ten years. Its members total about 1600.

Muranushi Masato, who is in charge of public relations for Japan Council, told us that, “An increasing number of young people worry about whether, under present conditions, there is any way to guarantee Japan’s security. Those who have grave doubts about the news as construed by the mainstream media are seeking membership in Japan Council….” Muranushi has full confidence in the Council’s past accomplishments.

Indeed, an impressive list of recent laws reflects Japan Council’s wish list. These include the Fundamental Law to Revise Education (2006), the Revision of the Japan Coast Guard Law of 2012 -- which was passed in the wake of an incident in which a Japanese coast guard patrol ship collided with a Chinese fishing trawler near the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands -- and the Revised Law Concerning Navigation by Foreign Ships (in Japanese waters), also of 2012.

The August issue of the Japan Council Bulletin (Kaihō) was emblazoned with the headline, “Exercising Collective Defense, Toward Limited Acceptance.” Muranushi adds, “We will now begin efforts in the political realm to hasten enactment of laws related to the exercise of collective self-defense, and also develop a national movement aimed at Constitutional revision.”

Clearly, the Japan Council has come to exert powerful influence on Japanese politics. Nevertheless, research on that organization hardly exists. How do the small number of “Japan Council watchers” view the situation?

Tomomi Yamaguchi, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Montana State University, emphasizes that, “Movements [such as Japan Council] that wield the ability to mobilize not only national Diet members but local assemblymen and religious practitioners have played an important role in consolidating the rightward tendency of the late 1990s that culminated in the revised Fundamental Law of Education, prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni Shrine, thwarting the attempt to allow separate surnames for spouses, etc.”

Prof. Yamaguchi takes up Japan Council’s anti-feminist movement in her jointly written book, Shakai undō no tomadoi (Social movements at a crossroads). For example, the Tokyo Metropolitan Assemblyman who, in 2003, censured the Metropolitan Tokyo Nanao Nursing School [for the disabled] in Hino (now Nanao Special Support School) for its program in sex education later became a member of the provincial assemblymen’s alliance affiliated with Japan Council.

The acting head of the plaintiff’s group in the suit responding to prohibition of sex education at the Nanao Nursing School [for the disabled] expressed the insight that the exercise of collective self-defense and anti-feminism have the “same roots.” “It’s alarming that, for those who want to make war, ‘It’s good to have lots of people, isn’t it?’” Therefore, they attack the disabled and sexual minorities. They advocate the value system by which women are to support men.” (Satō Kei)

“During the first decade of the 21st century, Japan Council directed a concentrated movement against feminism. At its center was Prime Minister Abe. It is hardly surprising, in light of Japan Council’s support for traditional family values, that the anti-feminist heckler in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly was a member of the Council’s provincial assemblyman’s alliance.”

Prof. Yamaguchi also calls attention to such issues as “hate speech” recently generated largely by organizations such as the Citizens’ Group Refusing to Permit Special Rights for Resident Koreans [Zainichi Tokken wo Yurusanai Shimin no Kai, abbreviated as Zaitokukai]. “’Conservative action’ groups such as Zaitokukai criticize mainstream conservative organizations like Japan Council for being ‘genteel conservatives’ (kireigoto hoshu), but it is organizations like Japan Council that incubate issues like the so-called military comfort women and xenophobia.” Tawara Yoshifumi, secretary general of the National Network of Children and Textbooks 21, points out that, “They are playing politics between the center and the regions using National Diet and local assembly members.” Tawara is especially alarmed by tendencies in local areas.

According to Tawara’s tabulation, more than 40% of local assembly members belong to Japan Council, as do some 15% of prefectural assemblymen. One of those assemblies, the Gumma prefectural assembly, has three times adopted petitions demanding removal of a memorial dedicated to Korean laborers that has stood in a park called “Gumma no Mori” in Takasaki City. The Koreans were forcibly brought to Japan to work in mines and construction sites. The assemblymen who sponsored the petitions, Manami Kazutaka and Karino Masashi, are members of Japan Council’s local assemblyman’s alliance.

Mr. Muranushi, mentioned above, contends that, “in the past, organizations never explicitly espoused or included in policy statements such positions as “historical revisionism” or “anti-feminism.” These views have always been pejorative, used only to criticize others. Concerning education in the schools, Japan Council’s primary objective is to instill in the students an understanding and love for their country’s history and, in regard to the family, to respect Japanese traditions and way of life.”

Those worried about Japan’s rightward drift refuse merely to stand by passively. Tawara says, “We have no alternative but to resist at the grassroots level by organizing groups such as “Kyūjo no Kai” to protect Article Nine [of the Constitution].”

Uesugi Akira, who is chief administrator at the “Library of Japanese War Responsibility,” founded in part by historical researchers, warns that, “One of the predecessors of Japan Council, the Society to Defend Japan, was heavily influenced by the religious right, which was also the ideological backbone of the group of officers who led the invasion of Manchuria. The National Association to Defend Japan was also connected to the rightwing.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Monday in Washington, January 11,2016

Coming of Age Day in Japan Holiday

JAPAN-SOUTH KOREA RELATIONS AND PROSPECTS FOR A U.S. ROLE IN HISTORICAL RECONCILIATION IN EAST ASIA. 1/11, 9:00am-Noon. Sponsor: Asia Program, Wilson Center. Speakers (Panel 1): Toyomi Asano, Former Wilson Center fellow, Professor of Political Science, Waseda University; Alexis Dudden, Professor of History, University of Connecticut; Sung-Yoon Lee, Professor in Korean Studies, Fletcher School, Tufts University; Park Yu-ha, Professor, Sejong University; Moderator: Robert Hathaway, former Asia Program director, Wilson Center. Speakers (Panel 2): Christine Kim, Associate Professor of Asian Studies, Georgetown University; Mike Mochizuki, Associate Professor of Political Science, George Washington University; Naoyuki Umemori: Professor of Political Science, Waseda University; Moderator: Jordan Sand, Professor of Japanese History, Georgetown University.

MAKING PARIS HAPPEN: CARBON MARKETS, TAXES, AND OTHER POLICY SOLUTIONS FOR CLIMATE ACTION. 1/11, 11:30 - 1:00pm. Sponsor: Center for Global Development (CGD). Speakers: Vitor Gaspar, Director, Fiscal Affairs Department, International Monetary Fund; Michele de Nevers, Senior Associate, Center for Global Development; Mary Nichols, Chair, California Air Resources Board; Catrina Rorke, Director of Energy Policy and Senior Fellow, R Street Institute; Vikram Widge, Head, Climate and Carbon Finance, World Bank Climate Change Group; Host: Rajesh Mirchandani, Senior Director for Communications and Policy Outreach, Center for Global Development.

SPACE WEAPONS AND THE RISK OF NUCLEAR EXCHANGE. 1/11, Noon. Sponsor: Atlantic Council. Speakers: Mallory Stewart, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Emerging Security Challenges and Defense Policy Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State; Bharath Gopalaswamy, Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council; Nancy Gallagher, Senior Research Scholar, Interim Director, CISSM School of Public Policy, University of Maryland; Joan Freese, Professor of National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval War College; Gaurav Kampani, Nonresident Senior Fellow, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council.

NPC LUNCHEON WITH ADMIRAL JOHN RICHARDSON, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS, USN. 1/11, 12:30- 2:00pm. Sponsor: National Press Club. Speaker: Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, USN, Fee.

CURRENT MIDDLE EAST MELTDOWN: THE VIEW FROM ISRAEL. 1/11, 4:00-5:00pm. Sponsor: Wilson Center. Speaker: Dore Gold, Director General, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

TRADING VIEWS: REAL DEBATES ON KEY ISSUES IN TPP. 1/11, 4:00-5:30pm, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs ranking member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin, D-Mich., hold a roundtable discussion on "Trading Views: Real Debates on Key Issues in Trans-Pacific Partnership," examining the automotive supply chain, with a particular focus on the auto rules of origin.

No kniefall from Abe

December 7, 1970, Warsaw Ghetto
‘Comfort women’ problem requires a grand gesture

by Jeff Kingston is the director of Asian Studies, Temple University Japan and an APP member
The Japan Times, January 9, 2015

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye understand something needs to be done about the “comfort women” issue, but they still have a way to go. It is unlikely that the Dec. 28 “final and irreversible resolution” to issues surrounding the women who worked in wartime brothels at the Japanese military’s behest will prove to be much of a resolution at all. Indeed, it could easily unravel and become another bone of contention and trigger mutual recriminations.

Prospects would have been better if they had negotiated a more substantive agreement and not missed the opportunity to advance reconciliation. This would require launching a process and dialogue rather than disingenuously declaring closure concerning a past that cannot be neatly exorcised by fiat. Japan is shifting state “ownership” of this problem to South Korea, just as it tried to do back in 1965 with the normalization treaty, and it is likely to be disappointed yet again, because democracy has politicized history in South Korea.

The fudging and murky nature of the agreement is characteristic of artful diplomacy, ensuring that it falls well short of a grand gesture and thus contributes little to reconciliation. One could ask whether in fact there really is an agreement, since the statements issued and brief transcript of the phone call between Park and Abe are curiously vague on all the key points.

Already there has been sniping in both countries about what has been left deliberately oblique. For example, what is the actual sequencing of Tokyo’s promised payment of ¥1 billion (about $8.3 million)? Is Seoul required to move the comfort-women statue that peers across the street at the Japanese Embassy before Tokyo antes up? What if Seoul is unable to convince civic groups or the remaining comfort women about the necessity of moving the statue? Will Tokyo withhold the pledged disbursements? If so, the agreement will probably collapse and ignite a new round of finger-pointing and denunciations.

How will the South Korean government gain the understanding of the Korean Council to remove the statue this civic group erected in 2011 on the site where comfort women and their supporters have held weekly protests over 1,000 times during the past two decades? Given the Korean Council’s repudiation of the recent accord, how can it be convinced to help the government “solve” the problem?

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se affirmed that his government understands Japan’s position on removing the statue, and pledged to prevent “any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity” and to “strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner through taking measures such as consulting with related organizations about possible ways of addressing this issue.”

What exactly is an “appropriate manner,” and who decides? If government discussions with the Korea Council don’t bear fruit, can Seoul explain to Tokyo that it did its best, and would Tokyo accept this as a good-faith effort and wire the funds, or resort to pulling the plug? Conversely, in the extremely unlikely event the Korea Council concedes on relocating the statue, will the South Korean government allow the weekly protests to continue? Or, would such demonstrations “impair the dignity” of the embassy and thus provide a pretext for Tokyo to renege? Would Park order security forces to quell such protests, and if so, what would be the implications for democracy?

Alternatively, to deliver what Tokyo expects, might the South Korean government remove the statue without the agreement of civic groups or the comfort women, arguing that it is in the national interest to do so? Surely that would ignite a backlash, since recent polls show 66 percent of South Koreans oppose relocation of the statue.

For the Japanese government, the statue has become a lightning rod for accumulated anger over the comfort women issue. Tokyo’s diplomats feel badly burned by the failure of the Asia Women’s Fund, which operated between 1995 and 2007, and a perception that every time they make an offer to finally settle the matter, their South Korean counterparts “move the goalposts.” Usually this refers to the South Korean insistence on the Japanese government assuming legal responsibility and providing official reparations. The recent agreement sidesteps those issues, with the Japanese government vaguely acknowledging state responsibility for the comfort women issue without admitting legal responsibility, and allocating funds from the budget earmarked for them without calling such funding “reparations.”

But can such clever evasions really consign shared history to the past? This so-called agreement seems an inadequate Band-Aid for the gaping wounds that divide these neighbors, because it resolves very little. The hedged wording provides just enough ambiguity and political cover for both sides, but it is naive to assume that such semantic parsing will really do the job.

So what comes next? More joint history study groups and grass-roots exchanges? A joint comfort women declaration signed in Washington? It seems improbable to relocate the statue to the entrance of Yasukuni Shrine’s Yushukan Museum next to the locomotive that commemorates the horrors endured by tens of thousands of Allied prisoners of war and Asian forced laborers building the “Railway of Death” on the Thai-Burma border, but it’s an idea.

According to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in speaking with Park after the agreement was announced, Abe “expressed anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.” Also in 2015, Abe declared his commitment to the 1993 Kono statement that acknowledged Japan’s state and military responsibility for the comfort women system, so the stage is set for something bigger, if he is equal to the task.

Alas, it is highly unlikely that Abe will quietly kneel in front of the comfort women statue, like West German Chancellor Willy Brandt did in 1970 at the monument commemorating the Nazi-era Warsaw ghetto uprising. Such a grand gesture of contrition would enhance Abe’s stature on the world stage and do much to advance bilateral reconciliation. Hardliners in Japan closely associated with Abe would be aghast, but due to his unassailable nationalist credentials, he is uniquely positioned to make such a powerfully symbolic gesture — one that would be a major step towards improving relations between these “frenemies.” Such an act would enhance the dignity of Japan and ensure Abe’s legacy as a statesman who understands the virtues of pragmatism and humility, and how atonement is empowering. Imagine.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Monday in Washington, January 4, 2016

Washingtonians return slowly from the holidays, grumpy but happy to get away from the family. Universities are still on break and think tankers will slowly return from their vacations this week. The Capital City  will start off slowly and crescendo to the President's early State of the Union address on January 12th. The President returns on January 3, the House on January 5, and the Senate on January 11. The Martin Luther King Holiday is January 18th and the Davos World Economic Forum is January 20-23. With an election year ahead, the political wonks and junkies will be in full gear.

STABILITY AND HUMAN SECURITY IN AFGHANISTAN IN 2016. 1/4, 10:30am- Noon. Sponsor: Brookings Institution. Speakers: Ché Bolden, Federal Executive Fellow, Foreign Policy; Jason Cone, Executive Director, Doctors Without Borders; Vanda Felbab-Brown, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence; Ann Vaughan, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Mercy Corps.

How women have to make their voices heard

Shelter for comfort women survivors in Yeon-nam dong, Seoul
Grandmother Lee Yong-soo tells 
Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Lim Sung-nam what she thinks of
the Korean Government negotiating for them without consulting them