A Korean-American Harvard University student is gaining attention in South Korea for a question he asked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding comfort women.
Harvard student Joseph Choe put the Prime Minister on the spot during his April 27 visit to Harvard University’s Kennedy School when he asked him to clarify his position on the Japanese government’s involvement in coercing Korean women and girls into sexual slavery during World War II. Despite student protests prior to the event regarding the issue, the Prime Minister failed to mention comfort women during his opening speech. During the question and answer portion of the event, Joseph Choe brought up the subject of comfort women by first apologizing for bringing up such a sensitive issue.
“I apologize in advance if my question comes off as provocative, but it has to do with a topic that weighs heavily on my heart,” he said. “In the face of [much evidence], do you still deny the Japanese government’s explicit involvement in the subjugation of hundreds of thousands of women into coerced sexual slavery?”
The Prime Minister avoided directly answering the question, however, saying only that, “When it comes to the comfort women issue, my heart aches when I think about those people who were victimized by human trafficking and were subject to immeasurable pain and suffering.” While not apologizing directly, he then noted that he had no intention of altering the 1993 Kono Statement, a document that expresses Japan’s remorse for its military’s involvement in the forcible taking of comfort women. Changing topics slightly, he then went on to outline Japan’s plan for reducing sexual violence toward women going forward.
In an interview with the Chosun Ilbo following the event, Joseph Choe expressed his disappointment in Prime Minister Abe’s response, saying, “I didn’t expect him to make a new apology for the past, but I was very disappointed when he pointed to Japan’s efforts to support women’s rights. How can he talk about increasing women’s rights while they continue to deny the past?”
You can watch the interaction between Joseph Choe and Prime Minister Abe beginning at the 29:30 mark in the video below.
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