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Legacy of war in Asia

Why is it so hard for Japan to say sorry?

Last surviving Chinese woman to sue the Japanese government for sex slavery suffered during the second world war died last week. Yet, instead of a sincere apology from Tokyo, Japan’s leader chose to honour country’s war criminals

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 August, 2017, 1:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 August, 2017, 1:16am

The death of Huang Youliang, the last surviving Chinese woman to sue the Japanese government for sex slavery suffered during the second world war, should prompt deep reflection. She was China’s last willing witness to the appalling atrocities inflicted by the Japanese military on so-called “comfort women”. Huang’s story is a harrowing one. She was only 15 when raped by invading Japanese soldiers and endured two traumatic years as a sex slave in a brothel.

Huang lived to be 90, but the psychological and physical abuse she suffered plagued her until the end of her life. Huang never received the formal apology and compensation she and seven others sought from a Japanese court.

Reconciliation cannot wait for the ‘comfort women’ victims of wartime Japan

Time has passed, but the wounds have not healed. Japan must do more for the victims of this dark chapter in its history.

The emotive issue of Japanese wartime atrocities continues to undermine relations between Tokyo and its neighbours. It has fuelled nationalist sentiment in China and Japan, risking a dangerous escalation. Huang died two days before International Memorial Day for comfort women.

The suffering of an estimated 200,000 victims from South Korea, China and other countries was marked and remembered around the world. But on Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a ritual offering to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Japanese war dead, including convicted war criminals. Abe did not attend the shrine, as he did in 2013. However, the sending of the offering – on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender – was insensitive. Japan should understand the depth of Chinese people’s feelings about the wartime atrocities. The grievances are genuine and they will not fade with the passing of time.

Japan issued an apology concerning comfort women in 1993 and a deal with South Korea was done in 2015, which included funding for victims. But that agreement has been much-criticised, as it was struck behind closed doors without input from the victims and was seen as lacking sincerity. A sincere apology is needed from Japan, and compensation for the victims of all nationalities. Chinese people do not have a grievance with Japanese citizens. There are many stories of Chinese victims from the war being looked after by caring Japanese people and of Japanese war orphans being brought up by Chinese.

Taiwan’s museum for ‘comfort women’ launches campaign for compensation

The problem is one for the Japanese government. The issue should not be seen as a diplomatic bargaining chip, it is a question of doing what is right. Former Japanese prime ministers have shown the way by visiting the memorial to the Nanking Massacre and showing genuine contrition. This year marks the 80th anniversary of that massacre in a city now called Nanjing. It is a sensitive time, but one which provides an opportunity for amends to be made and for comfort women to finally receive justice.