(Tokyo Shimbun: February 23, 2016 – p. 28)
By Teiichi Ikeda, Noritake Misawa
When speaking on the comfort women issue at the hearing on Japan in the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva on Feb. 16, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama criticized Asahi Shimbun’s past reporting on this issue, claiming this “had a major impact on the international community.” Asahi immediately refuted this “groundless” statement. While opinions may differ on whether Asahi’s reports had indeed influenced the international community, it would appear that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) completely toed the line of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the rightist forces’ proposition that “Japan’s reputation was damaged” by Asahi.
Sugiyama stated at the beginning of his testimony that Japan and the ROK reached agreement on a “final and irreversible settlement” of the comfort women issue last December and both countries are now making efforts in line with this agreement. He stressed that, “The Japanese government will always bear in mind that the dignity and honor of many women were seriously compromised during the wars of the 20th Century. It will take the lead in making the 21st Century an era where the human rights of women will no longer be violated.”
Sugiyama began “bashing” Asahi Shimbun in the subsequent Q&A session. He said: “The reason it became widely believed that the comfort women were abducted forcibly is because the late Seiji Yoshida published a book making the false claim that he ’rounded up a large number of women on Jeju Island in South Korea by order of the Japanese army’ and this was reported prominently by Asahi Shimbun. This had had a serious impact not only on public opinion in Japan and the ROK, but also in the international community.”
Sugiyama also mentioned that Asahi withdrew its reports relating to parts of Yoshida’s testimony deemed to be false in August 2014. He pointed out that, “The figure 200,000 (comfort women) is also unsubstantiated. Asahi itself admitted that it mixed up members of the women volunteer corps mobilized as labor force and the comfort women.” He negated the term “sex slave” on the ground that this is contrary to facts.
Asahi responded immediately. Two days after the UN committee meeting, Asahi lodged a written protest with MOFA on Feb. 18, objecting to its “groundless statements.” This was reported in its morning edition on Feb. 19.
The complaint stated that the third-party committee that investigated the comfort women reporting was divided with regard to the impact on the international community, with certain members noting that “this aggravated the ROK’s criticism,” while others voicing the opinion that “there had been no major impact.” Asahi also argued that as to the figure 200,000, it had not said that there was a mix-up but had simply noted that there were differing views on this.
How has MOFA reacted to this? The official in charge at the office for the promotion of women’s participation gave the following explanation on Sugiyama’s remarks: “He simply conveyed the government’s position faithfully in response to a question from a committee member. He did not change anything in this position. The Yoshida testimony, the reporting on this testimony, and the subsequent withdrawal of the reports are all significant. Mentioning Asahi Shimbun was inevitable when explaining the facts of the comfort women issue to the committee.” He said Asahi’s complaint was being “examined.”
Chuo University Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, an expert on the comfort women issue, criticized MOFA harshly for “taking full advantage of the withdrawal of Asahi’s reports on the Yoshida testimony to minimize the government’s responsibility.”
He also questioned the denial of “forcible abduction” by the military and bureaucrats and “sex slavery.” He said: “These women became sex slaves not necessarily because they were rounded up. [The government] is turning a blind eye to the fact that they were deprived of freedom and were de facto slaves who were made to serve multiple soldiers and civilian employees of the military every day.”