Yohei Kono, the former speaker for the House of Representatives, spoke at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club last week, and pointed out that the comfort women issue (sex slaves of the Japanese troops in WWII) was not simply about Korea. Despite being one of the only Senior LDP former cabinet members to never have served as Prime Minister, he is known for the Kono Statement, which acknowledged that the comfort women (foreign and Japanese females who often served as sex slaves to the Japanese army) existed and that the Japanese Imperial Army may or may not have been involved. He served as foreign minister under Big Shintaro Abe, father of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and others for over 1,100 days, making him the fourth longest-serving postwar foreign minister. He came to speak on how the forcefully passed security bills are unconstitutional, but in the end also had some very relevant things to say about Japan’s failure to reconcile with the past and recognize its war crimes. Plus he gave the LDP and Little Abe a lesson in what is proper diplomacy.
He was there principally to discuss the recent security legislation and how its passage had circumvented checks and balances and that the new law itself was unconstitutional.
At the beginning of the press conference he was asked his thoughts about China’s submission of documents to UNESCO on the The Nanking Massacre. He noted that it is definitely an established fact. “The question is how many people were killed—that’s not clear. The UNESCO ‘memory of the world’ system is opaque. There should be better grounds for submission. To deny the massacre took place is undeniable, but we need accurate numbers and make sure that it’s an objective historical record.” He put in a final jab by noting, “The movement by the LDP to to stop sending money to UNESCO because they accepted the documents is embarrassing. It’s like the previous threats to pressure Japanese firms not to advertise with newspapers or magazines critical of the establishment.”
Here are some highlights of the press conference:
Q:*As a foreign minister, one of the problems that Japan has with neighboring countries, is it has never seems to have reconciled with their past history of oppression and terrible things through out the colonial wars. We know from the writings of Prime Minister Nakasone and the head of the Fujisake Group Shikanai Haruo that the comfort women system wasn’t just a Korean problem, it existed in Indonesia, it existed in other places that Japan was ruling, that there has never been a comprehensive study of the comfort women system across all of Asia. Would Japan benefit from doing a cooperative study with all the countries it used to colonize and look at this problem one more time and issue a report and if so, how would that best be done?
K:*The comfort women existed through very wide area through out all of Asia, and this is something which I, myself do acknowledge. We have seen, for example in the case of the Netherlands, who conducted various independent studies into this issue and even went so far as to have court cases and also judgements in relation to this. Dutch foreign ministry has also made official announcements in regard to the existance or to the facts about the comfort women history. So of course the situation in each country and as it was occurring in each country at the time is different than the situation now. We do need to question about how such collaboration might actually be possible how this could really be done, but at the very least what can be said is that Japan should be treating these former comfort women who went through such cruel difficult situations in a more sincere way. Of course this is the role on a state to state level which should be done but also on a human to human level. This is necessary as well. We need to have much more value or sincerity being put into how the comfort women are being treated. As you say, a large scale or comprehensive regional study is perhaps one method. I’m not sure how this would be able to be implemented but this is a very important suggestion. How or what kind of steps could be taken to move forward in this, however is something that i can not comment on today.
Q:*In regards to the security legislation, particularly making the use of the right to collective self defence I would like to ask if you really believe that there is majority support of this within the LDP, and given whether there is a majority or not looking at the various exceptions, other than some exceptions such as Mr Murakami , we don’t really hear of other opinions from within the LDP. Not only technical issues such as the electro system or political funding and so on, but I would like to ask your opinion of this overall all LDP situation. We also see the situation of the media, for example, questions at the press club or press conferences from external reporters or freelancers are not being allowed. Also, despite our invitations from the FCCJ, the LDP is not coming here to present, which is quite different from your time in the LDP. I would like to ask your view about these fundamental changes in the party.
Kono: *There are many different reasons for this but there is one in particular which I would like to discuss, and this is indeed the single seat constituency system. I was also personally involved in the creation of this system, so this is something in which I have considered very much since then and actually have some concerns and am wondering how that has contributed to the difficult situation now. If we compare it to before for example, now that we have the case where only one Diet member is selected to represent an entire constituency, where as before there were 2 or 3 representatives coming from each of the localities, the districts as well. In the case beforehand we would see for example one person selected for their agricultural expertise, one for their economic expertise, one for welfare expertise, so people could select based upon the various different policies and different aspects in expertise of the people running in the election. There was more choice available before, however now in these single seat elections, this means that only one person can be selected to represent the people from there. This means that while there may be various different policies , peoples choices are being limited to only choosing based on the official party policies rather than individual polices of the person and their different expertise, which means there are less choice for the voters in the elections and for their representation.
*Translations are approximate rather than literal and based on the on the spot English translation. The Japanese differs from the official translation at points.