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No Apology for Sex Slavery, Japan’s Prime Minister Says

by Mar­tin Fack­ler

TOKYO, March 5 — Prime Min­is­ter Shin­zo Abe said Mon­day that Japan would refuse to com­ply if the Unit­ed States Con­gress demand­ed an apol­o­gy for his nation’s use of for­eign women as sex­u­al slaves dur­ing World War II.

Japan has already lob­bied against a res­o­lu­tion, under con­sid­er­a­tion in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, that would call on Tokyo to take clear­er respon­si­bil­i­ty for its enslave­ment of some 200,000 most­ly Kore­an and Chi­nese women known euphemisti­cal­ly here as “com­fort women.”

Japan has apol­o­gized before and issued a major report in 1993. But there are wide­spread con­cerns that Mr. Abe and oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive Japan­ese law­mak­ers may try to water down or reverse such admis­sions of guilt as part of a broad­er push to revise their nation’s wartime his­to­ry.

Speak­ing in Par­lia­ment, Mr. Abe reit­er­at­ed the posi­tion of con­ser­v­a­tive schol­ars here that Japan­ese offi­cials and sol­diers did not have a hand in forc­ing women into broth­els, instead blam­ing any coer­cion on con­trac­tors used by Japan’s mil­i­tary.

Mr. Abe reject­ed tes­ti­mo­ny before a House com­mit­tee by sur­viv­ing vic­tims, who said they had been kid­napped by Japan­ese sol­diers to serve in mil­i­tary broth­els. He said “tes­ti­mo­ny to the effect that there had been a hunt for com­fort women is a com­plete fab­ri­ca­tion.”

He also crit­i­cized the pro­posed House res­o­lu­tion, which blames Japan­ese author­i­ties for the coer­cion, say­ing it “was not based in objec­tive fact, and does not con­sid­er the Japan­ese gov­ern­men­t’s mea­sures so far.”

Polit­i­cal ana­lysts said ignor­ing the House res­o­lu­tion, which is non­bind­ing, was not like­ly to dri­ve a wedge between Tokyo and Wash­ing­ton, its most impor­tant ally. The fear among Japan­ese diplo­mats is that Mr. Abe or oth­er Japan­ese politi­cians will over­re­act and make claims that rein­force the per­cep­tion in the Unit­ed States and else­where that Japan remains unre­pen­tant for its wartime aggres­sion, ana­lysts said.

“It just looks bad for the prime min­is­ter to be get­ting involved in these sorts of his­tor­i­cal details,” said Minoru Mori­ta, a polit­i­cal ana­lyst who runs an inde­pen­dent research insti­tute in Tokyo. “Plus, his argu­ment isn’t going to sway world opin­ion any­way. Even if the mil­i­tary was­n’t point­ing guns at the women, they still could have been coerced.”

Appar­ent­ly in a nod to such con­cerns, Mr. Abe appeared to pull back from a com­ment last week deny­ing that the women had been forced at all to work in broth­els. On Mon­day, he told Par­lia­ment he sup­port­ed the 1993 gov­ern­ment state­ment, which acknowl­edged that the mil­i­tary had at least an indi­rect role in forc­ing the women into sex­u­al slav­ery.

That gov­ern­ment had also apol­o­gized to the women and set up a fund to pay them com­pen­sa­tion, which is set to expire this month.

“There prob­a­bly was not any­one who fol­lowed that path because they want­ed to fol­low it,” Mr. Abe said, speak­ing of the wom­en’s entry into mil­i­tary broth­els. “In the broad sense, there was coer­cion.”

With that lim­it­ed con­ces­sion, Mr. Abe appeared to be try­ing to defuse a grow­ing diplo­mat­ic row with Asian neigh­bors over last week’s denial, which out­raged offi­cials and wom­en’s groups across the region.

As opin­ion polls show his approval falling among Japan­ese vot­ers, Mr. Abe can ill afford to be seen as pro­vok­ing Chi­na and South Korea, much less under­min­ing ties with the Unit­ed States, polit­i­cal ana­lysts and oppo­si­tion law­mak­ers said.

“If Japan does­n’t apol­o­gize and repent for its past vio­la­tions of human rights, won’t it lose inter­na­tion­al trust?” a law­mak­er from the oppo­si­tion Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, Toshio Ogawa, asked Mr. Abe dur­ing Mon­day’s par­lia­men­tary debate.

Mr. Mori­ta and oth­ers said that vow­ing to ignore the pos­si­ble House res­o­lu­tion appeared to be an attempt by Mr. Abe to appease his con­ser­v­a­tive base even as he sup­port­ed the 1993 state­ment.

But Mr. Abe’s claims that Japan had no offi­cial role in its mil­i­tary broth­els car­ried anoth­er poten­tial pub­lic rela­tions risk, they said: in mak­ing such denials, he was in effect dis­miss­ing as liars the aging women now com­ing for­ward with tear­ful tes­ti­mo­ny of their ordeals.

One was Lee Yong-soo, 78, from South Korea, who tes­ti­fied in the House last month that she had been kid­napped by Japan­ese sol­diers at age 16 and raped repeat­ed­ly at an army broth­el. In a news con­fer­ence last week in Tokyo, she said Japan­ese sol­diers had dragged her from her home, cov­er­ing her mouth so she could not call to her moth­er.

“I want Japan and the Japan­ese prime min­is­ter to apol­o­gize,” she said. “As a vic­tim who was forcibly tak­en, as some­one who lived through those events, I’m a liv­ing wit­ness.”


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