"No comment" — too little, too late?

The comfort women resolution has passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs by a vote of 39 to 2. It now moves on to the full House, where Speaker Pelosi has suggested it will be considered in mid-July, conveniently before the Upper House elections.

The Abe government’s response: no comment. Adhering to the sensible position that the government will not comment on resolutions in the legislatures of other countries, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shiozaki said, “Since this will not truly shake relations between the US and Japan, hereafter absolutely nothing changes.”

Now why could the Japanese government not have said that six months ago, and stuck to it? This is a textbook case of shutting the barn door long after the horses have broken out and gone stampeding across the countryside.

Meanwhile, it seems that Ambassador Kato’s gloomy pronouncements about the impact of the resolution were completely overblown, and scared no one into voting against the resolution. How much Japanese taxpayer money has already been sunk into the campaign to see this resolution destroyed? And — despite the official “no comment” — how much remains to be spent in the next two weeks?

Whatever the appropriateness of Congress deliberating on this issue, there are much bigger questions now. This episode has been important in revealing how thinking about the relationship differs between Washington and Tokyo. Congress has never been particularly concerned about hurting Japan’s feelings, and of late the White House seems particularly disinclined to defend Japan. (But why should it? Is there another US ally that is incapable of handling criticism from the US government?) Meanwhile, the Abe government and its sympathizers, acting out of a mixture of pride, arrogance, and the absolute certainty that they have “The Facts” on their side have grossly overreacted to this issue, clearly leading some in Washington to wonder just who exactly the US is dealing with in Tokyo. As such, how can the alliance survive if one party expects love to be blind, and the other is beginning to take a closer look at its partner and noticing imperfections that were ignored in the first blush of romance?

Maybe it’s time for George and Shinzo to have a little chat about where this relationship is headed. Taking a break from each other? Seeing other people? It seems that’s what Abe is doing, anyway.

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