Civil groups from eight countries, including China, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines, have approached UNESCO to declare “comfort women” — a euphemism for women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army before and during World War II — a tragic heritage of humankind.
But according to Japanese newspaper the Sankei Shimbun, Japan’s right-wing forces have threatened that Japan’s government will stop paying UNESCO membership fees if “comfort women” is included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register next month.
Fourteen civil groups from the eight countries have submitted historical records that the Japanese army forced women into sexual slavery, making it the strongest international civil action to get “comfort women” included on the UNESCO heritage list to pay respects to the victimized women.
Japan has always opposed the inclusion of “comfort women” in the Memory of the World Register. It has even asked UNESCO to revise its review procedure, saying it is unreasonable and unfair.
And Japan’s right-wing forces, with the tacit support of their government, are trying to increase the number of Japanese staff in UNESCO, in order to prevent the inclusion of “comfort women” on the heritage list.
When China applied to UNESCO in 2015 for listing the Nanjing Massacre and “comfort women” in its Memory of the World Register, the Japanese government organized a civil delegation to appeal to the UN body that the two incidents are not historical facts. And after the Nanjing Massacre was listed in the register, Japan and some Japanese media outlets said that UNESCO’s review procedure was unfair and baseless. Only some Japanese leftists supported the inclusion of “comfort women” on the UNESCO heritage list.
But Japan’s government does not dare to publicly oppose such moves, because that would expose Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration’s evil designs of denying history, especially Japan’s sordid war past.
The Abe administration has not only tried every means possible to deny that the Nanjing Massacre was orchestrated by the Japanese army, but also claimed that “comfort women” were actually women who voluntarily chose to “serve” the Japanese forces. And by doing so, the Abe administration has only exposed its current military ambitions.
Some Japanese right-wing scholars, too, are trying to distort history, by claiming that Japan’s invasion of Asian countries was aimed at liberating Asian people and fighting against Western colonists.
The Abe administration and Japanese right-wing forces that are trying to deny the country’s war past are not only dishonest, but also trying to obstruct the peaceful development of the world today. They attempt to rewrite history to add legitimacy to Japan’s military growth.
But the Japanese government is not likely to officially support the country’s right-wing forces’ threat to stop contributing to the UNESCO fund if “comfort women” are listed in the Memory of the World Register, because it knows such a move will invite international criticism.
Moreover, if Japan does not pay its membership fees over a long period of time, it could cease to be a member of UNESCO. This is not what the Abe administration wants, because it needs the UN organization to promote Japan’s rightist historical views that distort history.
Therefore, the Abe administration may continue to use propaganda and diplomatic pressure to deny or distort Japan’s war past, and continue to be a member of UNESCO.
The author is a professor of Japan studies at China Foreign Affairs University.