Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso reassured Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon that Japan stood by its 1993 apology (made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono) over sexual slavery in its military brothels during WW2. This came after Korean and broader international criticism of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his comments that there was no evidence that women were coerced into working at WW2 brothels for Japanese troops. Although Abe had subsequently backtracked and backed the 1993 apology (statement appended below), it was often viewed as lip-service to smooth over cracks in Japan’s relations with not only China and Korea, but now the US.
“I am apologizing here and now as the prime minister, as it is stated in the Kono statement… As I frequently say, I feel sympathy for the people who underwent hardships, and I apologize for the fact that they were placed in this situation at the time.”
Abe is scheduled to visit the US in April, with the US Congress scheduled to pass on a non-binding resolution proposed by Democrat Representative Mike Honda soon after. The resolution calls for Japan to formally acknowledge [and] apologize … in a clear and unequivocal manner for its imperial armed forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.” Abe has already denounced the resolution as being riddled with errors and said he would offer no new apologies even if it passes.
Japan’s war crimes have been well-documented, although these are never discussed in its textbooks for public schools. In particular, Japan’s use of “comfort women” in China and Korea remains a problem in its relations with those countries today. Apart from ignorance, the main contention by Japanese politicians and historians who argue that the Imperial Army did not coerce the women into sexual slavery stems from the claim that the comfort women had consented and/or were paid. There is also the claim that most of the comfort women were from Japan. However, studies have also indicated that as many as 200,000 local women in conquered lands were forced into sexual slavery.
Yasuji Kaneko, 87, told AP in an interview that “They cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.”