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Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore.

The Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, has been a prominent figure in Japanese politics for some time now. First elected as P.M. in 2006, he served only one year but had to step away for health reasons. Then he returned to win the office again in 2012 and has since won re-election two times since then, most recently in 2016.

But Abe has been described by many as a very right-wing politician. He was among the first foreign leaders, actually the first, to meet with President-elect Donald Trump. And after his meeting at Trump Towers, Abe described Trump as a – quote — “trustworthy” leader.

So, certainly eyebrows were raised last week after Japan recalled its envoy doing trade negotiations with South Korea because activists have created a sculpture of a “comfort woman” to protest the mass rape of Korean women during World War II and the unapologetic stance of the Japanese Government on that issue.

And to get more insight about this we’re joined with Aisa Kiyosue, who is an Associate Professor at the Muroran Institute of Technology in the Hokkaido Region of Japan. She specializes in Gender Legal Studies, Family Law, Constitutional Law and Peace Studies. Aisa, thank you so much for joining us.

AISA KIYOSUE: (indistinct)

KIM BROWN: So, Aisa, can you tell us about this protest action in South Korea? What does the statue of the comfort woman symbolize?

AISA KIYOSUE: Well, people often say “comfort women” but actually it’s sexual rape, which was done by the former Japanese Army during the Imperial Time; they were so much involved using – exploiting – the women from the Korean Peninsula, China, Taiwan, Indonesia and other countries like the Philippines.

They were used as sexual slaves for the Japanese soldiers and the girl statue in South Korea symbolizes – commemorates – and shows compassion to those victims of the sex-slavery system.

KIM BROWN: So, the Japanese conquest of Korea has taken place over 70 years so why are the protesters angry with the current Japanese government? What are the policies of Prime Minister Abe regarding Japan’s foreign relations?

ISHIZAKA TOHRU: Basically, as you say, the Abe Administration is so much like a right-wing conservative government. There is not only the Abe Administration but in general, Japanese…

The government administration in the past, almost… they are showing similar attitudes to former colonized countries like South Korea and North Korea as well.

Basically, the Japanese Government does not want to accept their responsibility as colonizers. The government does not want to look at, sincerely, our negative history.

So, in 1983, actually, the government showed the official current on sexual slavery, the comfort women issue, based on their research. The research actually said that the Imperial Army at the time were directly or indirectly involved in these issues.

The sexual slavery system was created following the official request by the Imperial Armies for the Japanese soldiers. However, for a long time the Japanese governments in the past did not want to accept that abuse; they didn’t want to show an official apology to the former comfort women.

KIM BROWN: Prime Minister Abe, does he intend to change the Japanese Constitution in order to enable Japan to send troops abroad?

AISA KIYOSUE: That’s right. That’s right. He belongs to one of the most conservative political parties; it’s called LDP, Liberal Democratic Party.

The LDP has been aiming at amending our constitutional role as a policy from the founding of that particular party. And nowadays it’s very much possible for them to achieve that long-time dream. I mean, to amend… I mean, to change the constitutional role of Japan; more like the denying of our fundamental human rights in negative ways.

KIM BROWN: So, what about the trade relations between Japan and South Korea? Will this incident cause long-term damage to the two countries’ economies?

AISA KIYOSUE: Well, I’m not a specialist in economics so I am not able to give deep insights on that issue, to be honest. But surely it will damage the friendship between the Korean people and the Japanese people who want to have a good relationship, of course. And also, it will damage our diplomacy for a long time if the Abe Administration doesn’t change their attitude. I mean, to look at our negative history with sincere eyes.

KIM BROWN: So, Aisa, what is the status of the “comfort woman” statue now? Is it still sitting in the same public space that it was?

AISA KIYOSUE: You mean, in South Korea? Yes. In Seoul, yes – the capital city – yes, I think so. I personally believe that the Government of Japan should accept that statue. We should always keep having that statue in front of the Embassy in South Korea for that. We can always keep our alike- history of the war and memorize what happened in the past; I mean, the colonial history and also for the future – for future good relations with the Korean people.

KIM BROWN: Aisa, thank you very much for joining us. We really appreciate your insight today. Thank you.

AISA KIYOSUE: Yes, thank you.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.

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