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Essay and Opinion


"Japan-US alliance" and discordance over "the comfort women issue"

September 20, 2012

Noriho URABE
(Adviser, Japan Institute of Constitutional Law)

  The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the biggest opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are both choosing their next leaders. The media focus is on the LDP election, because the DPJ's Yoshihiko Noda will certainly be reelected. Last year, when he took office following Naoto Kan's resignation, Noda seemed to be a relief for a one-year term until this election. The DPJ may wish it had a capable and strong competitor of Noda. The LDP also misses somebody better than the five candidates running for its leadership.

  Let me discuss a more fundamental issue. When the DPJ came to power in 2009, it called for "a close and equal partnership between Japan and the USA" and suggested revising the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement and other conditions of the US military bases in Japan. Its first Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama spoke of his plan to establish an East Asian Community, hinting at the possibility of correcting Japan's excessive alignment to the USA. However, it has turned out that the DPJ is not really motivated to do that. In other words, the US successfully nipped DPJ's plan in the bud. Prime Minister Noda's administration is overtly trying, even harder than former LDP administrations, to obey the USA. He assures that the Japan-US alliance has become the basis of DPJ's policy, by saying that "the Japan¬-¬US Alliance is the most important" and that "we should prevent any smallest split in the Japan-US alliance." Needless to say, the LDP has spoken more about the Japan-US alliance than anything else. Today, Japan has too many politicians who think and speak only about its alliance with the USA, while the reality of the US-Japan alliance is Japan's complete submission. When they say "the Japan-US Alliance is the most important," they mean to say, "what is most important is to obey the USA without any back talk." Today, the term "Japan-US alliance" is thoughtlessly referred to by politicians and the media. However, until about 30 years ago, it was an unnerving expression. It is said that the term "US-Japan alliance" first appeared in an official diplomatic document in 1981. It was in a joint statement after a meeting between Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki and President Ronald Reagan. Suzuki later had to make an excuse that "alliance does not include military affairs." Then Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ito was forced to resign because he honestly stated, "It goes without saying that alliance does include military sense." They were thus troubled by the Article 9 of our Constitution which remained powerful enough to forbid statesmen to talk about an alliance. "Japan-US alliance" has now become one of the most commonly used political terms, which shows us how terribly the Article 9 was eroded in the past 30 years.
  All the candidates in DPJ and LDP elections are talking about the Japan-US alliance as the key policy that needs to be further strengthened. At the same time, many of them are again reciting their beliefs that Japan was not very guilty of "alleged war crimes" during its invasion into Asia and the World War II. Prime Minister Noda commented on the "comfort women issue" at the end of August that "There is no evidence that proves that the army or the police took them by force." Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is now running again for the LDP leadership, also said that "We should revise the Statement (in 1993) by (then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei) Kono, which admits forcible draft (of those women) by the army." Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto (who heads an ultra-right Restoration Party) reportedly discussed something similar. However, Osaka Mayor is not entitled to make such a public comment regarding a national policy. I can't help deriding both Mayor Hashimoto and the reporter who brought up this subject at the press conference. Those rubbish remarks, together with the familiarized term "Japan-US alliance," indicate how miserably our Constitution Article 9 was ravaged. However, I wonder how well they know that their chauvinistic talks can damage their treasured Japan-US alliance.
In 2007, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution that the Government of Japan should formally apologize for its Imperial Armed Forces' coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known as "comfort women." When the bill was submitted, 44 Japanese politicians, scholars and journalists jointly put a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post to refute the bill, by citing some "facts" including; "No historical document has ever been found by historians or research organizations that positively demonstrates that women were forced against their will into prostitution by the Japanese army," "They were working under a system of licensed prostitution that was commonplace around the world at the time," and "Many of the women, in fact, earned incomes far in excess of what were paid to field officers and even generals." The advertisement declared that the Lower House bill was unjust by saying, "We must note that it is a gross and deliberate distortion of reality to contend that the Japanese army was guilty of 'coercing young women into sexual slavery.'" It worked against its sponsors' wish and inspired more members of Congress to support the bill, which was later passed on July 30, 2007. Americans saw this issue from the aspects of human rights and dignity of those women. It did not necessarily require evidence that "women were forced." The shameless statement that "That was commonplace around the world at the time." was least persuasive.

  Human rights and democracy are the symbols of integrity of the USA. There can be some doubts if they deserve such principles. However, the ideas of human rights and democracy are deep-rooted in American society as their proud heritage. Therefore, any threats against such morals are shunned. Instinctively, Americans burned with hatred when they learned about using women for releasing sexual desires of soldiers. They exploded with anger to read the statements that tried to justify such acts that crushed the women's dignity. Many pro-Japanese politicians including Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Lee Armitage also suggest that Japan should do what a democracy should do, and try to solve the problem by recognizing its human right aspects.

  In 2006, President George Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi jointly issued a statement entitled "The Japan-U.S. Alliance of the New Century" with a subhead "The U.S.-Japan Alliance Based on Universal Values and Common Interests." Along these lines, Japan has actively supported Bush administration's "war on terrorism," because the "successes in the war on terrorism" were integral parts of "common interests" that form the basis of the alliance. Now, Japanese politicians must not forget that the alliance was to be based not only on "common interests" but also on "universal values," which embraces "freedom, human dignity and human rights, democracy, market economy, and rule of law." When they try to justify what the Imperial Army did to the "comfort women," they should realize that they are undermining "universal values," one of the two most important foundations on which the Japan-US Alliance is based.

  Unfortunately, recent territorial disputes with neighboring countries seem to start fueling some Japanese people's refutation of the international allegations of "Japan's ill-treatment of comfort women during the war." On the other hand, the US society often strongly denounces infringement of human rights. Therefore, it is quite possible that the US government starts to examine "universal values" more seriously and decides to press Japan to cope with the "comfort women issue." I get irritated when I imagine how oddly the Japanese government would react in such a phase. Would it apologize or would it refute? I'm not sure if Shinzo Abe, who denies 1993 Kono Statement, would defend his belief about the comfort woman issue even if that means to give up the Japan-US alliance that he and his party says is the most important.