Sex slav­ery apol­ogy could be re­vised

Top of­fi­cial hints at idea, which may anger South Korea.

Austin American-Statesman - - NEWS - By Martin Fackler

tOKYO — A top of­fi­cial hinted Thurs­day that Ja­pan’s newly in­stalled con­ser­va­tive government might seek to re­vise a two-decade-old of­fi­cial apol­ogy to women forced into sex­ual slav­ery dur­ing World War II, a move that would most likely out­rage South Korea and pos­si­bly other former vic­tims of Ja­panese mil­i­tarism.

Speak­ing a day af­ter the new Cab­i­net was named, Chief Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga, who serves as the government’s top spokesman, re­fused to say clearly whether the new prime min­is­ter, Shinzo Abe, would up­hold the 1993 apol­ogy, which was is­sued by the chief Cab­i­net sec­re­tary at the time, Yo­hei Kono.

Suga said at a news con­fer­ence, how­ever, that it would be “de­sir­able for ex­perts and his­to­ri­ans to study” the state­ment, which ac­knowl­edged the Im­pe­rial Army’s involvement in forc­ing thou­sands of Asian and Dutch women to pro­vide sex for Ja­panese sol­diers.

Suga seemed to keep his com­ments in­ten­tion­ally vague, adding only that the mat­ter “should not be made into a po­lit­i­cal or diplo­matic is­sue.”

He also said the Abe government would up­hold a broader apol­ogy, is­sued in 1995 to ob­serve the 50th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II, to all vic­tims of Ja­pan’s colo­nial­ism and ag­gres­sion.

The sex slaves is­sue re­mains highly emo­tional in South Korea, a former Ja­panese colony. On Thurs­day, the South Korean For­eign Min­istry re­sponded to Suga’s com­ments by call­ing on Ja­pan not to for­get its mil­i­taris­tic past.

The Kono State­ment has long been a sore point for Ja­panese right­ists, who deny ei­ther that the women had been co­erced or that the mil­i­tary had a hand in forc­ing them to be­come what many Ja­panese eu­phemisti­cally call “com­fort women.”

Th­ese crit­ics in­clude Abe, an out­spo­ken na­tion­al­ist who has re­peat­edly called for re­vis­ing the state­ment, most re­cently dur­ing an in­ter­nal Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party elec­tion in Septem­ber.

The is­sue does not res­onate broadly, how­ever, among the gen­eral pub­lic, which would rather avoid con­fronta­tion with other Asian coun­tries. Dur­ing the na­tional par­lia­men­tary elec­tions this month that swept his Lib­eral Democrats back into power, Abe avoided talk­ing about the mat­ter, ap­par­ently so as not to be seen as too far to the right of main­stream vot­ers.

His po­si­tion has also caused con­cern in Washington, where the United States government has urged Ja­pan and South Korea, its two clos­est Asian al­lies, to in­crease co­op­er­a­tion against se­cu­rity threats like North Korea.

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