On July 30 the US House of Representatives deliberated a bill that would demand the Japanese government formally admit that the country's army forced many women into sex slavery during World War II, apologize to the victims and accept its historical responsibility.
After just 35 minutes, those present during the House plenary session unanimously approved the resolution. Democratic Representative Mike Honda, who sponsored the non-binding act, said afterward: "The passage of the comfort women resolution is not the end, but the beginning. It is sending a strong signal to Japan's political community."
This is the eighth such motion tabled by the House of Representatives since 1996, but the first to pass the lower chamber of Congress. None of the previous seven reached the voting stage.
Last September, the House Committee on International Relations (now the House Committee on Foreign Affairs) passed a bill demanding the Japanese government formally admit the Japanese imperial army forced tens of thousands of women to serve as sex slaves, but it was not brought to the House plenary session for a vote.
When the current Congress opened in January this year, Representative Honda, a Democrat from California and grandson of Japanese immigrants, sponsored a bill over the "comfort women" issue again.
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing about the wartime atrocity, while the Japanese government pulled out all the stops to intercept the bill. During Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's US visit this past April, he requested a meeting with 11 federal legislators, including Congress Chairperson Nancy Pelosi.
Abe apologized to his American hosts over the "comfort women" issue but did not retract an earlier comment that there was insufficient evidence to prove the wartime Japanese government was involved in the crime.
In addition to complaints that the American media had failed to faithfully relay what he had said, he also made a tongue-in-cheek apology to former "comfort women" for their "profound sufferings" during the war.
On June 14, a full-page advertisement signed by 63 Japanese nationals was published in the Washington Post. It claimed that no comfort woman was recruited by force and they were treated well.
The ad also warned that the comfort women bill would hurt bilateral relations. The ad, signed by Japanese journalists, scholars and 44 Japanese parliamentarians, angered the Bush administration.
The Japanese ambassador to the US also joined efforts to stop the House from passing the Mike Honda act. Just before the House Foreign Affairs Committee deliberated the bill, Ambassador Kato Ryozo warned in a June 22 letter to five House leaders that passing the bill would almost certainly cause long-term damage and impact on the deep friendship, firm trust and extensive cooperation between Japan and the US.
He indicated that Tokyo might reconsider its support for the US in Iraq. Japan's cash donation to post-war Iraq is second only to the US and has recently approved more money put aside for Iraq in the next two years.
Still, the House Committee on International Relations passed the resolution by an overwhelming majority, demanding the Japanese government formally apologize to all wartime "comfort women".
The House had planned to vote on the Kato resolution on July 26, but decided to postpone it until July 30 to avoid impacting Japan's Upper House election on July 29 or embarrass Abe too much.
The non-binding resolution stated "the comfort women system was unprecedented in terms of cruelty and scale and one of the most extensive crimes in the 20th century".
It went on to say the comfort women system was a work of the Japanese government and demanded the Abe administration acknowledge its historical responsibility, issue a formal apology by the prime minister and heed calls by the international community that Japan's history textbooks not gloss over the issue and Japanese civil servants must observe then Chief Cabinet Secretary Masayoshi Takemura's comment in 1993 about the "comfort women" issue.
The Honda resolution has won widespread applause from the world community except Japan. Though having no binding power, the bill may still send extensive impact around the world.
Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Tom Lantos made a comparison between the contrasting ways Germany and Japan treated their war responsibility in a recent speech. He concluded that Germany had made the right decision, whereas Japan had been parading "historic amnesia".
In the past few years, the people of China, the Korean Peninsula and other Asian nations have been fighting against this "historic amnesia". Now that the House has passed the milestone resolution on the "comfort women" issue, apparently even Japan's closest ally could no longer tolerate Japan's obsession with this "anomaly".
This is not the first time the US has acted on the issue. During his US visit in June last year, then Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was allegedly intent on speaking to the whole Congress, but Chairman of then House Committee on International Relations Committee Henry Hyde wrote President George W Bush an open letter, in which he said Koizumi must first publicly promise he would not visit the Yasukuni Shrine ever again before speaking to the Congress.
The Yasukuni Shrine honors Japanese Class-A war criminals that fought American forces during WWII, while the Capitol is the place where President Franklin D Roosevelt delivered his famous speech to declare war on Japan. Consequently Koizumi's speech to Congress was a no go.
The House resolution could push forward the internationalization of the "comfort women" issue. As a matter of fact, the enslavement of "comfort women" is a crime Japan committed during World War II, which has therefore been a global issue from the very beginning.
The Canadian Parliament is currently discussing this issue, while victims in Australia and the Netherlands are fighting the Japanese government for compensation in court. The House resolution has definitely left its mark in all countries concerned.
Nations of the world are still pursuing Nazi war criminals who have evaded justice so far. No matter where they hide and whatever they are doing, they will be brought to justice once they are found. It is a matter of ultimate right or wrong that proves justice must be served.
World War II ended more than 60 years ago, but the Nazi war criminal issue is yet to be resolved for good. And so it is with the "comfort women" issue. Because most of the victims have since passed on without seeing justice done and those still alive don't have many years left, the resolution of this issue must not wait any longer.
What impact will this House resolution have on US-Japan relations? The Japanese side appears desperately trying to magnify it. This writer believes it would only cause a few "scratches or bruises" at best. The two countries are close allies with wide-ranging common interests in security, economy and many other areas between them.
The House resolution cannot damage the root of their relationship as allies, but Japan politicians should better think about country's war responsibility very seriously, now that even their closest ally has spoken out in disgust.
Source: China Daily; By Tao Wenzhao, the author is a researcher with Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences