On January 16, 2014, the U.S. Senate passed the 2014 budget bill passed by the House on previous day. While the bill is significant for President Obama in an effort to avoid another fiscal fight with the U.S. Republican party, the U.S. Congress led by Rep. Mike Honda inserted the language calling for the Secretary of State to find a way to implement the 2007 House Resolution 121. The resolution “calls on the Japanese Government to deliver an apology for the sexual enslavement” in an attempt to rein-in Japan and those who were forced into sexual servitude during World War II, euphemistically called “comfort women.”
The U.S. Congress’ action is viewed as the U.S. Government’s displeasure with Japan’s recent bout of actions that have infuriated Korea and China, two countries most needed to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program. Since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine that enshrined 14 Class A war criminals of World War II, the relation between Japan and two of her neighbors has become frozen. Such circumstance has hampered the U.S. efforts to halt the North Korea’s nuclear program at the stage of testing and refining an actual weapon.
The Obama administration has usually taken a back seat every time Japanese governments angered Korean and Chinese governments by refusing to acknowledge the existence of comfort women/ Traditionally, the U.S. views Japan as a staunch ally in Asia against the ever-expanding influence of China in Asia. However, the Abe’s recent actions, such as visiting the Yasukni Shrine, severely undermined the U.S. influence in Asia because the inaction from U.S. is being perceived as a support for Japan’s unrepentant attitude for her atrocities during World War II.
The Congress’s action to insert the language calling on the Secretary of States to act on the issue of Japan’s past, although without any force, can be viewed as a signal that the U.S. government is running out of patience with Abe’s Japan. South Korea President Park Geun-hye has all but cut off any optional talks with Japan unless Japan sincerely apologizes for her past actions.
In September 2013, when U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel requested President Park to improve a relation with Japan in order to at least, check China’s ever-growing influence in the region. President Park flatly rejected the request; and instead asked the U.S. to force Japan to “behave” in an effort to rein them in. Park’s rejection placed the U.S. in an awkward position to bring Japan and South Korea together as the America’s most trusted allies in Asia. Ironically, the Abe’s visit to the Yasukni Shrine to honor the WW II war criminals provided the U.S. government an opening to send a strong message to Abe that the U.S. government won’t sit idle while China and South Korea are getting closer together and North Korea is refining its nuclear program.
So far, there is no reaction from Abe’s Japanese government. Hopefully, Japan has received a message that she cannot hide her pasts from the closest friend. The U.S. continues the effort to rein in Japan.
By Jonathan JY Jung