Japan should not be singled out for criticism of the use of military brothels during World War II, the new chairman of Japan’s influential public broadcaster NHK was quoted as saying in remarks likely to spark widespread anger.
The comments by Katsuto Momii, who has just taken over NHK, are likely to become an additional diplomatic headache for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe is already faced with deteriorating regional ties due largely to territorial issues with China and South Korea, nations that suffered from Japanese aggression before and during the war.
The issue of “comfort women” — as those forced to work in the wartime brothels are known in Japan — is a flashpoint in Tokyo’s relations with Asian nations such as Taiwan and Vietnam, but especially South Korea, since many of the women forced to work in the brothels were Korean.
Asked about the issue at a news conference on Saturday, Momii said such things happened in every nation at war during that time, including France and Germany.
“[The issue of] ‘comfort women’ is bad by today’s morals, but this was a fact of those times,” Momii was quoted as saying by the Asahi Shimbun.
“[South] Korea’s statements that Japan is the only nation that forced this are puzzling. ‘Give us money, compensate us,’ they say, but since all of this was resolved by the Japan-Korea peace treaty, why are they reviving this issue? It’s strange,” he said.
Japan says the matter of compensation was closed under the 1965 Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea that normalized diplomatic ties between the two nations.
Momii said he was only giving his opinion, but when reporters told him he was speaking as a public figure, Momii then retracted his remarks, the Asahi said.
He also said it was “only natural” for NHK to take the Japanese government’s position in international broadcasts on things such as land disputes with China.
Momii’s comments sparked an angry response within the government, the Asahi said, quoting a Cabinet minister as saying that the remarks were unacceptable and that Momii should resign.