Abe endorses LDP probe into wartime sex slaves

by Reiji Yoshida and Hiroko Nakata

The government will provide documents to aid a new investigation by the Liberal Democratic Party into Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday.

The move comes after Abe’s denial last week that the Japanese military coerced the “comfort women,” as Japan euphemistically called them, sparked a storm of criticism.

Earlier in the day, an LDP lawmaker quoted Abe as saying the government would open a new investigation into the issue. The remark was made at a meeting of LDP lawmakers who adopted a resolution claiming that neither the wartime government nor the Imperial Japanese Army was responsible for “forcibly bringing” women to frontline brothels in the 1930s and ’40s. Abe was previously a director general of the LDP group.

But when asked if the government plans to take another look at the issue, Abe said: “I heard the party is going to study and investigate the issue. As for the government, we will cooperate in providing documents as requested by the party.”

Abe repeated that his government will continue to stand by the 1993 statement made by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that admitted and apologized for the military’s involvement in forcing women into frontline brothels.

Abe declined comment on what kind of documentation or evidence the government would submit. “I don’t know about details yet,” he said.

In the resolution adopted Thursday, the LDP lawmakers’ association claimed its investigation showed that, despite the 1993 government statement, only private agencies forced women to work at the “comfort stations.”

The group admitted in a written statement that private-sector agencies did kidnap some women and forced them to work at their brothels, but it denied the government and army’s involvement in the process of “forcibly bringing” women to the military brothels.

Abe last week claimed there was no evidence that the army coerced women into sexual slavery, which drew fire from across Asia and provoked U.S. lawmakers to demand Japan’s apology on the issue.

The association, headed by former education minister Nariaki Nakayama, consists of 130 lawmakers, or nearly one-third of the 417 LDP lawmakers in both chambers of the Diet. The group handed the resolution to Abe Thursday afternoon.

Abe was once the director general of the association, which has long campaigned to push the education ministry to remove descriptions of “comfort women” from public high school history text books.

After becoming prime minister in September, Abe slightly changed his position and has repeatedly said he accepts the 1993 government statement as the official view.

The 1993 Kono statement was issued after the government examined historic government documents and interviewed 16 women who claimed they were forced into sexual slavery.

The government did not find documents that directly proved the involvement of the government or army, but in combination with the interviews and circumstantial evidence from state documents, Kono admitted the official involvement and extended a formal apology.

A number of wartime government documents have been discovered to suggest the Japanese army did order the creation of military brothels for soldiers, played a role in managing the brothels, and even transported women to those brothels in China and other parts of Asia.

But the association claimed the Japanese authorities did not forcibly take those women to the military brothels, most of which were run by private-sector agencies for the sake of the army.