Echoing remarks made by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga earlier this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Friday that his administration would not revise a landmark apology made to “comfort women” forced to work in Japan’s military brothels during WWII.
“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,” Abe told a parliamentary committee, according to a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). “The Kono Statement addresses this issue… As my [Secretary Suga] stated in press conferences, the Abe cabinet has no intention to review it.”
The Kono Statement was delivered in 1993 by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono after a government study of the issue that began in 1991. It acknowledges that women, primarily South Koreans, were “recruited against their will, through coaxing [and] coercion.”
An English translation of the statement provided by MOFA, reads:
Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”
It also includes a paragraph that appears to contradict Japan’s current rightward shift, as several public officials, and indeed the Prime Minister himself, have been accused of promoting historical revisionism:
We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterated our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.
Historians claim that as many as 200,000 women were enslaved by Japan’s imperial army. While the vast majority came from Korea, a Japanese colony from 1910 until 1945, others were forcibly “recruited” from China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Abe’s decision was likely influenced by “diplomatic pressure” coming from the U.S.
Barack Obama and his counterparts in Washington have been trying to cool tensions between Japan, South Korea and China since Abe’s visit to the controversial Yasukuni war shrine last year, compounded by ongoing territorial disputes, brought diplomatic relations to their lowest point in years.
Despite Abe’s promise to keep the Kono Statement as-is, a government panel still plans to verify testimony from 16 former sex slaves who were involved in its formation – infuriating many Koreans.
Suga told reporters that the original investigation focused more on “accommodat[ing] the feelings of South Koreans rather than establish[ing] the facts.”