TOKYO: Japan Won’t Alter Apology to World War II Sex Slaves

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, left, with Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, last month in Tokyo. Mr. Suga on Monday said that Japan will not change a 1993 apology to women forced to work in military brothels during World War II. Credit Yuya Shino/Reuters

By Martin Fackler for The New York Times on March 10, 2014—
“Japan will not revise a landmark apology to women forced to work in military brothels during World War II even as it moves ahead with a review of the testimony used to create that apology, a spokesman for the Japanese government said Monday.

Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, told reporters that the conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had no intention of changing the 1993 apology, called the Kono Statement. The apology admitted for the first time that the Imperial military played at least an indirect role in forcing the women, known euphemistically as “comfort women,” to provide sex to Japanese soldiers.

Mr. Suga was responding to rising criticism from South Korea, a former Japanese colony where many of the women came from, of an announcement made two weeks ago by Mr. Suga that the government would review evidence used to support the apology. At that time, Mr. Suga said the government would form a panel of experts to review the evidence used to back up the statement, mostly testimony made two decades ago by 16 aging former sex slaves.

Mr. Suga announced the review under pressure from nationalist lawmakers who denounced the 1993 apology as the product of a Korean-led campaign to defame Japan, saying the women were just common prostitutes working for money. South Korean officials and some analysts warned that Mr. Abe, who before becoming prime minister had also publicly doubted whether the women had been coerced, might be moving to scrap the apology.

South Korea reacted strongly, with its foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, saying at a United Nations human rights meeting last week that Japan was insulting “the honor and dignity of the victims.” The move also brought expressions of concern from the United States, which has watched with growing alarm as frictions over history have divided Japan and South Korea, its two top Asian allies.

However, other analysts said the review could just be a political ploy aimed at appeasing Mr. Abe’s right-wing supporters without actually changing Japanese policy. On Monday, Mr. Suga seemed to suggest as much, saying the review would be carried out in secret and would not alter the apology.

“We have no intention to rethink the Kono Statement,” he said at a regular news conference. The statement was named after the chief cabinet secretary at the time, Yohei Kono, who released it.”

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