According to recently declassified diplomatic documents, diplomats from both Japan and China had apparently agreed in 1992 that the issue of “comfort women” – women who were forced into sex slavery under Japan’s military rule in the Second World War – was not to be brought up during Emperor Akihito’s planned visit to China. Officials in both countries were concerned about the fallout if the issue of comfort women surfaced during the emperor’s visit to commemorate the 20th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between the two East Asian powers.
“We are distressed over the spread of the comfort women issue from South Korea to China,” one of the documents quoted the director of the China division in the Japanese Foreign Ministry as saying. “With mutual upcoming visits by key figures, I would like to see it ensured that the issue will not affect the broader picture of Japan-China relations.” An official at the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo was quoted as responding, “China does not want the issue to be played up, either. This topic will have to be handled with caution, because it will pull directly at the heartstrings of the Chinese public.” The Asahi Shimbun used the information disclosure system to obtain a copy of the confidential record, dated Feb. 19, 1992. A dozen or so days earlier, the media had reported that a document discovered in the Defense Agency, the predecessor to today’s Defense Ministry, showed that some of the comfort women had been Chinese.
Tokyo and Beijing had agreed in principle on a visit to Japan by Jiang Zemin – then general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party – in the spring of 1992, to be followed by the emperor’s first visit to China the following autumn. Beijing was using the political momentum of Akihito’s visit as an opportunity for ending its isolation from the international community that had stemmed from the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.
Nobuo Ishihara, serving as deputy chief Cabinet secretary at the time, confirmed that Japan took steps to make sure that China would not bring up war-related issues during the emperor’s visit. “The Cabinet would have exploded if anything were to happen during the imperial visit to China,” Ishihara said. “The Cabinet would have fallen in hot water if Beijing were to broach negative issues, so we made sure about the point repeatedly via the Foreign Ministry.” Only later in the mid-1990s did China start taking a tougher stance over Japan’s interpretation of their shared history and World War ll.
[via Asahi Shimbun]