Shinzo Abe's Double Talk

Saturday, March 24, 2007

THE TOUGHEST player in the "six-party" talks on North Korea this week was not the Bush administration -- which was engaged in an unseemly scramble to deliver $25 million in bank funds demanded by the regime of Kim Jong Il -- but Japan. Tokyo is insisting that North Korea supply information about 17 Japanese citizens allegedly kidnapped by the North decades ago, refusing to discuss any improvement in relations until it receives answers. This single-note policy is portrayed as a matter of high moral principle by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has used Japan's victims -- including a girl said to have been abducted when she was 13 -- to rally his wilting domestic support.

Mr. Abe has a right to complain about Pyongyang's stonewalling. What's odd -- and offensive -- is his parallel campaign to roll back Japan's acceptance of responsibility for the abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II. Responding to a pending resolution in the U.S. Congress calling for an official apology, Mr. Abe has twice this month issued statements claiming there is no documentation proving that the Japanese military participated in abducting the women. A written statement endorsed by his cabinet last week weakened a 1993 government declaration that acknowledged Japan's brutal treatment of the so-called comfort women.

In fact the historical record on this issue is no less convincing than the evidence that North Korea kidnapped Japanese citizens, some of whom were used as teachers or translators. Historians say that up to 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and other Asian countries were enslaved and that Japanese soldiers participated in abductions. Many survivors of the system have described their horrifying experiences, including three who recently testified to Congress. That the Japanese government has never fully accepted responsibility for their suffering or paid compensation is bad enough; that Mr. Abe would retreat from previous statements is a disgrace for a leader of a major democracy.

Mr. Abe may imagine that denying direct participation by the Japanese government in abductions may strengthen its moral authority in demanding answers from North Korea. It does the opposite. If Mr. Abe seeks international support in learning the fate of Japan's kidnapped citizens, he should straightforwardly accept responsibility for Japan's own crimes -- and apologize to the victims he has slandered.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company