Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe yesterday said that his government would not revise a landmark 1993 “comfort women” apology and said he was “deeply pained” by the suffering of women drawn into a system of wartime brothels.
Abe, who has made similar remarks in the past, has faced criticism for his government’s alleged plan to review what is known as the Kono Statement, which acknowledged official complicity in the coercion of military sex slaves, a historical legacy that draws raw resentment in neighboring South Korea.
Respected historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea, but also from Taiwan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines, were forced to serve Japanese soldiers. They are sometimes called “comfort women.”
Abe said yesterday that his Cabinet “upholds the position on the recognition of history outlined by the previous administrations in its entirety,” including the Kono Statement.
“With regard to the comfort women issue, I am deeply pained to think of the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering, a feeling I share equally with my predecessors,” he told a parliamentary committee, according to a statement issued by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The Kono Statement addresses this issue... As my Chief Cabinet Secretary [Yoshihide] Suga stated in press conferences, the Abe Cabinet has no intention to review it,” he said.
Suga, the government’s top spokesman, said on Monday that there was no plan to revise the statement, adding that Tokyo’s review was aimed at verifying historical facts and to determine if South Korea was involved in drafting its text.
Neither Suga’s comments, nor the latest remarks from Abe, clarified what would happen if Tokyo’s review was at odds with the official apology.
In 1993, after hearing testimony from 16 South Korean women, Japan offered “sincere apologies and remorse” to the women, and vowed to face the historical facts squarely.
However, repeated wavering on the issue among senior right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.
Some Japanese conservatives have responded that Tokyo has repeatedly apologized and that the issue was being used for political gain.
“As I have stated earlier, we must be humble in front of history,” Abe also said yesterday.
However, he added that “history should not be politicized or be turned into a diplomatic issue. Research on history should be entrusted to experts and historians.”