Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bush accepts Abe's apology?

This NY Times article addresses the impact of Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Washington on the “comfort women” resolution. Abe’s language “apologizing” for wartime sexual enslavement especially to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, has received attention for obfuscating the issue.

Specifically, Abe said he had “deep-hearted sympathies that the people who had to serve as comfort women were placed in extreme hardships” and expressed his “apologies for the fact that they were placed in that sort of circumstance.”

On the nature of Abe’s “apology,” Professor Mochizuki is quoted in the article, saying “If he wanted to be clear in his response, he could have phrased it differently….What Abe said does not acknowledge the issue of coercion, so those insisting on a clear admission of responsibility won’t be satisfied with that. I don’t think he’s changed anyone’s mind with his remarks.”

What was especially interesting (or a bit audacious in my humble opinion) was Bush’s acceptance of Abe’s “apology.” Like Representative Honda is quoted as saying in the article, my question is: how can President Bush accept Abe’s apology? He was not coerced into sexual slavery to the Japanese military nor is he asking for an official apology, so how can he accept Abe’s “apology”?

This leads to procedural question, if the non-binding House resolution requiring an official government apology passes, is there any measure the Senate or the Executive Branch can take to counteract it? Even if it doesn’t pass, since it’s non-binding, hasn’t the attention given to the issue accomplished a large part of the goal? Moreover, was Bush’s acceptance a way to maintain his good ties with Abe and with the nationalist contingent in the current Japanese government more generally given the attention to this controversial issue in HR 121? Was Bush’s acceptance of the apology an adequate means through which Abe could placate his nationalist base?

Given the recent acknowledgement of coercion (albeit in the rejection of compensation claims filed by former “comfort women”) as “historical fact” (the “ ” are for you Larry), it will be interesting to see how this issue continues to develop and on what grounds Abe will continue to be able to deny official involvement.

For one gauge of the South Korean opinion regarding the Abe-Bush visit, this JoongAng Daily editorial claims that Abe obfuscated the comfort women issue (despite the recent Supreme Court acknowledgement of coercion as "historical fact"), while the real motivation behind his meeting with Bush was to link the North Korean nuclear issue with the Japanese abductions.

In addition to eating hamburgers and securing an invitation to President Bush’s ranch, Abe concluded his US visit with a stop at Arlington National Cemetery. This caught my attention in light of the Yasukuni issue. In many ways Arlington parallels Yasukuni (although I forget the exact language, the last time I visited Arlington, I was struck by the signage denoting the cemetery as “America’s Shrine to Freedom”). However, one argument that I have heard is that Japan lacks a neutral venue to celebrate patriotism. Yasukuni is one of the few symbolic places that is at all patriotic (unfortunately, this conception of patriotism is highly charged and incredibly offensive to Japan's former colonies). I wonder if this is somehow laying the foundation for Abe's first state visit to Yasukuni in August. Or, if it's just something he wanted to see while in Washington. Or, if he was getting ideas for a constructing a new nationalistic monument.

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