by Dr. Shen Dingli

January 22, 2014 (TSR) – The U.S. Senate on Jan. 16 passed its spending bill for 2014, including the “comfort women” issue, following a similar move by the House of Representatives. It marks the first time the U.S. Congress has formally urged the Japanese government to face up to and apologize for the historical issue.

Enlisting comfort women was among the horrifying acts committed by Japanese troops during their imperial invasions over the last century. The former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier urged the State Department to drop the euphemistic term “comfort women,” but instead say “enforced sex slaves.”

shen-dingli-smallAfter World War II Japan briefly embarked on the road of peaceful development, but the country’s right-wing force kept showing its dissatisfaction, mainly by denying war crimes.

Regarding the postwar conviction as an “injustice,” the rightwing activists idolize war criminals and deny drafting comfort women. The visits by top political figures to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine are just another clumsy contention against human conscience and international justice.

The U.S. government has not been totally indifferent. Many law makers have also expressed alarm at Tokyo’s reluctance to face up to its own invasion history.

Late Senator Henry Hyde and late Congressman Tom Lantos were firmly opposed to Junichiro Koizumi’s Shrine visits, besides condemning Japan’s right wing for denying the comfort women issues.

In the present Capitol Hill make up, Japanese American Congressman Mike Honda has repeatedly lashed out at Tokyo’s erroneous dictions on comfort women issues. Honda has even pointed out on multiple occasions that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China. Honda has said Japan must assume responsibility for its World War II history and apologize to China.

The 2014 budget bills recently passed by the House formally called on Secretary of State John Kerry to encourage “the government of Japan to address the issues raised” in a 2007 resolution, that called on Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner” for the forced enlistment of more than 200 thousand young women into military sex slavery during their colonial rule of Asia.

The United States has been carrying out its “Asia-Pacific rebalance” over the past few years, trying to balance the emerging economies’ influence on the present international order, ultimately in a bid to ensure its own dominance in the region.

The unveiling in Glendale of a monument to honor "comfort women" from World War II.
The unveiling in Glendale of a monument to honor “comfort women” from World War II.

What Washington failed to anticipate is that Japan regarded the U.S. shift in strategy as its chance to shake off the postwar peaceful constitution. Japan regained non-binding military liberty in the name of collective self defense. Japan’s blatant military expansion inevitably triggered the alert from other countries in the region and beyond.

Judging the recent political development in Japan, Washington is bound to understand that the Japanese government has abused its “rebalancing” strategy, which has reduced Japan to a negative asset for the United States in its global strategy.

The United States must rectify Japan’s wrongdoings, both for Washington’s own geopolitical interest and to preserve the postwar international order, since a more reasonable Japan is also in the U.S. interest.

It is fair to say that the United States still has time to drag Japan back on track. If the United States still wishes to call itself a responsible superpower, it must seriously restrain Japan, especially in opposing Japan’s historical revisionist acts.


Dr. Shen Dingli, a physicist by training, is a professor of international relations, the Associate Dean of Fudan University’s Institute of International Studies and Director of Center for American Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai. He is also the founder and director of China’s first non-government-based Program on Arms Control and Regional Security at Fudan University. He is Vice President of Chinese Association of South Asian Studies, and Vice President of Shanghai Association of International Studies.  He received his Ph.D. in physics from Fudan in 1989 and did arms-control post-doc at Princeton University from 1989-1991.

The article was originally published in Chinese and translated by Chen boyuan.


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