Friday, November 26, 2010

Never too late

Photo borrowed from
 very gifted Australian photographer  
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara, the Kan Cabinet’s only member of the arch conservative Nippon Kaigi, on November 23 made an unusual side-trip* while he was in Canberra to ensure his country’s access to Australia’s resources.

He visited the Australia War Museum and Memorial to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Solider and to stand silently before the statue of Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop. Dr Dunlop (1907-93) was the best known of a number of doctors who ministered to Australian prisoners held by Japan. A doctor on the infamous Thai-Burma Death Railroad where nearly 3,000 Australians died, he is immortalized in a large bronze statue in the War Memorial grounds (as pictured above).

In the midst of critical trade and security talks, Maehara felt it necessary to present a gesture of contrition for Japan's mistreatment of Australian prisoners of war. I believe that this is the first time a Japanese Foreign Minister has done so.

A total of 22,376 Australians became prisoners of Japan, most at the fall of Singapore in 1942. Of them 8,031 (36 percent) died in captivity through starvation, overwork, brutality and mistreatment. From the Changi Prison to the Thai-Burma Death Railway the Australians died. Most infamous were the Sandakan death marches where only six Australians of 2,400 Allied POWs survived and the Baka Island machine-gunning in which 21 Australian nurses were shot in the back, leaving Sister Vivian Bullwinkel the sole survivor.

At a press conference in Canberra with Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Maehara said:
There were some 22,000 people who were prisoners of war during the Second World War. I wanted to take the opportunity to express or to demonstrate my feeling of apology towards those people by visiting the statue of Dr Dunlop. In particular, next year, a number of former POWs will be visiting Japan, and I look forward to giving them the warmest welcome that we possibly can.
Yes, the apology was merely a rewording of the 1995 Murayama Statement. Yet, it was the most liberal paraphrase yet of Japan’s solitary official apology. And yes, Australian POWs were included in the 1995 Japanese government-funded series of Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiatives for POWs from WWII Allied nations (with the United States as the sole exception).

At the same time, there were a number of significant firsts. The Japanese program for Australian POWs, now ended, were never preceded by an apology or sponsored directly by the Japanese government. Visiting POWs never met with high-level Japanese government officials, as Maehara now said they would. Most significant, after years of Japanese statements that it could not apologize to specific groups, the Australian POWs were specifically mentioned in Maehara’s apology.

All these extraordinary developments mirror what the American POWs received in September during their first ever invitation program to Japan. Six former POWs traveled to Japan courtesy of Japan’s Foreign Ministry. They were received with a deep bow and apology from then-Foreign Minister Okada.

But as the head of the American delegation told Okada, and anyone who would listen, the apology most sought is from the Japanese private companies that purchased and worked them to death. Over 60 Japanese corporations used POWs throughout the Empire. A number, such as Mitsubishi and Kawasaki, also profited from transporting them to POW camps in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan. All the companies still exist in some form. Although the corporate names have sometimes changed, their antecedents are included in the 100-years or more of their company histories. Contemporary companies such as Ube Industries, Toshiba, Mitsui, Sumitomo, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, and Nippon Sharyo were all kept operating by POW labor during the war.

Curiously, it appears that Japan’s Foreign Ministry remains unwilling to allow Japan’s corporations to go the requested next step. In 2009, one Australian POW, Joe Combs, traveled to Japan to ask then-Prime Minister Aso for an apology for being brutalized and forced to work in one of the Aso family coal mines. Aso Mining used 300 allied POWs and thousands of Koreans as slave labor in the Kyushu mines. He never received the apology, but said, "With an apology the pain will go."

POWs and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly requested that the companies publicly apologize for their complicity in the enslavement and mistreatment of POWs. Japanese diplomats respond that they cannot tell their country’s companies what to do. However, as a Showa Denko representative told an American reporter after a visit by an American POW in September, his company was advised by the Foreign Ministry not to apologize.

There are many things that Japan now desperately wants. From the Australians they need security cooperation and access to its mineral riches and rare earths. From the U.S., the Japanese want the U.S. nuclear umbrella and access to the new multi-billion dollar high-speed rail contracts. But in both Australia and America, there lingers the bitter memory of the mistreatment of the soldiers and sailors that Japan now asks for protection.

Most Australian and American POWs slaved for private Japanese mining companies. And nearly every Japanese company trying to bid on the American high-speed rail contracts used POW slave labor. Even the Japanese rail companies, JR East and Jr Central that have formed all-Japanese consortia to bid on contracts, can trace their history back to Japan’s national railways (Ministry of Railways) and the transport of POWs.

This is a similar situation to the role of France’s state-owned national railway, SNCF, which has been condemned for transporting Jews and others to transit camps during World War II for deportation and certain death. In Congress and state legislatures, SNCF has been called on to account for its wartime activities before they bid on America’s high-speed rail contracts.

On November 4, the SNCF Chairman did just that. He admitted his company’s complicity with Nazi war crimes and expressed his “sorrow and regret.” He pledged that SNCF would “continue to work in partnership with those most deeply affected – to ensure such unspeakable horrors never occur again.” He said that SNCF “has made a long‐term commitment to transparency, education of younger generations, and acts of Remembrance.” The firm also established a website to document its progress toward contrition.

As the Chairman of LaFarge pointed out:
In 1995, the President of France, Jacques Chirac recognized the responsibility of France by stating, “Those dark hours tarnish forever our history, and are an insult to our past and our traditions. Yes, the criminal madness of the occupier was seconded by French people, by the French State.” As an arm of the French State, SNCF fully embraces these words and the sorrow they reflect for the victims, survivors, and their families who suffered as a result of our role during the war. 
It took 15 years from France’s blanket State apology for its war crimes and the threat of the loss of billions of dollars of business to bring SNCF this far. Fifteen years have also passed since Japan’s national apology for the war. For Japan, with restive Chinese neighbors and a sluggish economy, threats exist to both its national and economic security.

There were cold commercial reasons for the France’s SNCF to offer its overdue apology to its wartime victims. These are the very same facing Japan’s great corporations. Corporate responsibility resonates through the generations and to the nation.

*As far as I can tell, this brief side-trip was not reported in the Japanese press.

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Anniversary

October 31st was the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. It was the first UN resolution to acknowledge how women were affected by conflict and the critical role they must play toward making the peace. The resolution initiated a decade of recognition of and remedies for the violence inflicted upon women during warfare. No more is rape an acceptable consequence of war.

No one was more outspoken in its support than US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who traveled to the UN to present American support for the resolution. Under her watch, Congress reintrouced the International Violence Against Women Act on February 4th, 2010. It makes combating gender-based violence a "strategic foreign policy imperative" of the United States. The act begins to establish inter-agency mechanisms for assisting victims of international violence and bringing their perpetrators to justice. It may be voted on during the upcoming Lame Duck session.

Bosnia and the Congo are the recent graphic examples of how women suffer when conflict break out. Their modern, documented antecedent was Imperial Japan’s Comfort Women system during the Pacific War in the middle of the 20th century. Women of all ethnicities were forced into sexual slavery and trafficked to serve the needs of Japan’s military, as well as colonial government and industry representatives.

Often, as is common in today’s conflicts, the Japanese military used rape was used as an instrument of warfare and subjugation. Whether the rape was one of opportunity or provision, it was always one of power. Japan’s soldiers and sailors raped because they could.

UNSC Res 1325 is about returning power to the women abused. The violence inflicted upon women and children in warfare is now recognized as unacceptable and its perpetrators no longer can operate with impunity. Although the Comfort Women had no remedies and no voice, their tragedy helped make the world aware of how unjustly sexual violence affects women and societies.

Sexual abuse and violence by the Japanese military was prevalent throughout Asia during the Pacific War. Women and girls were not the only victims. The Comfort women remain one the great unresolved history issues of the WWII. And Asian governments, especially Korea and China, use it legacy to remind Japan of its moral obligations.

Thus, it was a surprise that so few Asian countries gave their vocal support to the anniversary of UNSC Res 1325. Missing were South Korea, North Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, and Mongolia. Only Australia had its Foreign Minister deliver special remarks and these were not at the UN. Otherwise, just the country representatives to the UN or lower presented their national statements of support. 

Malaysia and South Korea did what Japan did in 2008 at the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1820, which noted that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide.” Its national representative showed support through his capability as head of a UN organization and not his country.

In this case of 1325, Malaysia’s UN delegate also headed the UN Economic and Social Commission. South Korea probably hoped that the strong support given by Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, 1325 was sufficient.

It was not. It was especially not sufficient for a country that says it champions the Comfort Women cause.

For perspective, on June 19, 2008, the UN Security Council adopted unanimously the landmark resolution 1820 (2008) after a day-long ministerial on “Women, Peace and Security.” Then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice noted that there had long been dispute about whether sexual violence against women in conflict was an issue the Council was authorized to address.

“I am proud that, today, we respond to that lingering question with a resounding ‘yes!’” she said, adding that the world body was acknowledging that such violence was indeed a security concern. “We affirm that sexual violence profoundly affects not only the health and safety of women, but the economic and social stability of their nations,” she said.

Japan, interestingly, did not as other G-7 countries offer a statement in support of the resolution. Instead, its UN Representative Ambassador Yukio Takasu as Chairperson of the UN Peacebuilding Commission gave a statement commending the leadership of the UN for the debate at the meeting.

The Government of Japan, then led by Yasuo Fukuda, certainly noted this resolution’s implications for its long-festering Comfort Women problem. However, even in the face of this dramatic, international perceptual change that women are not just merely part of war’s collateral damage and that violence against women is among the most pervasive and insidious human rights violations, Japan remained equivocal.

In 2010, the Japanese government supported 1325 with a statement from the Makiko Kikuta, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs who affirmed the essence of Council resolution. She said peace could not be achieved without the participation of women, yet women and children remained the principal victims of every conflict. The international community must comprehensively address prevention, participation, protection and recovery, she said, adding that doing so would, among other things, enable identification of what was needed to make the objectives of the resolution a reality. She urged the formulation of a country-specific strategy with a gender perspective when implementing peacebuilding activities.

This DPJ government's show of support, which was not merely a MOFA bureaucratic statement, is a long way from the LDP’s distancing itself from the issue in 2008. The DPJ showed an unusual sensitivity to American policy priorities. Whereas the US has long championed women’s human rights, Japan as demonstrated in 2008 was not always an enthusiastic supporter.

If the US Congress fails to pass the International Violence Against Women Act during the upcoming Lame Duck session, Asian motivation to support 1325, 1820, and further measures will be lessened and American moral leadership seriously undermined. There is more at stake than funding a foreign aid budget.


November 25th - International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Open for business

Peace Partners
I have long said that the solution to Futenma is two words:
The Philippines.

Actually, two locations are whispered in Washington: Subic Bay, The Philippines and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam.

The effort to relocate the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to somewhere on Okinawa is sliding into 15 years.  Most of the delay has been under a LDP-led government. The DPJ came to power in 2009 hoping to end the stalemate by moving the base off the island. American patience soon wore thin, especially as the time drew closer to deploy the accident-prone Osprey to Futenma.

Futenma, smack in the middle of a city, is an accident waiting to happen. With the Ospreys, it is an accident pretty near guaranteed. It is a mystery to me as why common sense does not take over from so-called force structure and contingency planning. Does the Marine Corps want a disaster to happen?

Anyway, what both the LDP and the DPJ have in common is their understanding that moving Futenma within Okinawa is not politically viable. The DPJ was inadvertently more honest in suggesting that the Marines simply leave. For both the LDP and now the DPJ, the strategy is to delay until the U.S. realized on its own that it had to reduce its presence in the prefecture.

And Japan's political leaders must have thought that they were winning this war of wills, when the U.S. announced its plan to move many of the Marines on Okinawa to Guam. But as USG analysts have pointed out, Guam does not have the infrastructure to support such a massive population increase. Or as the U.S. Congress' only Soka Gakkai member, Hank Johnson (D-GA) worried, Guam might "tip over and capsize" due to overpopulation.

Hatoyama's questioning of the Futenma relocation agreement finally impressed upon American policymakers, long enamored (blinded by love) with the seemingly pro-defense LDP, that the current situation was untenable. Forcing the Japanese to build another base on Okinawa had political consequences not just for the Japanese, but the U.S. as well. Thus, quietly, both Japan and the U.S. have looked for other locations in the Asia-Pacific to host U.S. military facilities.

It appears that Vietnam has been Japan's favorite. This summer Japan participated for the first time in the U.S. Navy's Pacific Partnership --the annual U.S. Pacific Fleet humanitarian assistance and disaster relief endeavors, aimed at strengthening regional partnerships in Southeast Asia--by sending a medical ship to Vietnam. Over the weekend, Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan signed with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung a Strategic Partnership between Japan and Viet Nam for Peace and Prosperity in Asia to develop rare earth elements, build nuclear power plants, and improve Viet Nam's infrastructure.

Viet Nam's Cam Ranh Bay is strategically located near key shipping lanes in the South China Sea and is close to the potentially oil-rich Spratlys and Paracel islands. The Spratlys are claimed by Vietnam, China, Malaysia, the Philipines, Brunei and Taiwan. The Paracels are claimed by Vietnam and China.

This weekend the Vietnamese Prime Minister announced that his country was willing to service foreign navies at Cam Ranh Bay. The Russians would furbish part of the naval facility and open it for business.

Now, let's see how The Philippines reacts.

But enough from me, let the news speak for itself:

Vietnam to reopen Cam Ranh Bay to foreign fleets: PM
AFP 10/31/10

Vietnam plans to reopen to foreign navies the Cam Ranh Bay port facility formerly used by both the US and Russia, the prime minister said Saturday after a summit dominated by China's territorial disputes.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung addresses the closing ceremony of the 17th summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi. Vietnam plans to reopen to foreign navies the Cam Ranh Bay port facility formerly used by both the US and Russia, the prime minister said Saturday after a summit dominated by China's territorial disputes.

"In the centre of the Cam Ranh port complex Vietnam will stand ready to provide services to the naval ships from all countries including submarines when they need our services," Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said in response to a reporter's question, at the close of the East Asia Summit.

Countries will pay for services at the facility which will be developed with Russian assistance, Dung said.

The base in southern Vietnam was used by the United States navy during the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975. The Soviet Union and then Russia later used the facility, until Russia withdrew several years ago.

Vietnam and the US, which restored diplomatic ties 15 years ago, are both concerned about China's growing military might and assertiveness in the South China Sea.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Vietnam Saturday that Hanoi and Washington are "broadening our security exchanges".

On Saturday the US and Russia were formally invited as members of the East Asia Summit in what analysts say is a blow to Chinese attempts to diminish US influence in the region.

With its core the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), EAS also includes Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.