Facing questions from an opposition lawmaker Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe refused to comment on the government’s position on wartime sex slaves, but he did say he feels “heart-breaking pain” when he thinks of how their human rights were violated.
“In this sense, I’m no different than all of the prime ministers of the past. I don’t think this issue should be made into a political or diplomatic problem,” Abe told a Lower House session, answering questions from Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii about the “comfort women” issue.
“In history, there have been many wars and the human rights of women have been violated. It’s necessary to make the 21st century a century without human right violations,” he said.
“I feel heart-breaking pain when I think of (the comfort women) who suffered cruel experiences hard to describe with any words,” he said.
Abe has argued in the past there are no historical documents proving that the Imperial Japanese military or authorities engaged in “forceful recruitment” — such as kidnapping — of the women and girls who were forced to provide sex in Japanese wartime military brothels.
But Western media have reported that Abe has completely denied there was any coercion in the military brothels, which helped his remarks become controversial in South Korea, China and the United States.
During Thursday’s Lower House session, the JCP’s Shii pointed out that then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a statement in 1993 admitting the responsibility of the Japanese army and authorities in forcibly recruiting at least some of the sex slaves, based on interviews with South Korean victims.
Shii said Abe’s earlier comments contradict the 1993 statement.
“The Kono statement was expressed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono. So I, as prime minister, would like to refrain from commenting further,” Abe said. “I believe it’s appropriate for the (current) chief Cabinet secretary to deal with the issue.”
Abe’s past comments dealt with how the females were brought to the military brothels, and he has seldom offered a clear comment on what he thinks of the experiences they suffered after they were in the “comfort stations” for Japanese troops in the 1930s and ’40s.
Historians say Abe’s comments on the lack of historical documents may be technically correct as far as the situation in what is now South Korea is concerned.
But they also point out that the army directly managed the military brothels and would have known how the women were brought there, and should be held responsible for any hardships they suffered.
During a separate question-and answer session in the Upper House earlier in the day, Abe renewed his pledge to revise the postwar Constitution.
He said his LDP has already drawn up a draft to create a brand-new Constitution, but he will first try to revise Article 96 to ease the requirements for constitutional revisions.
“Each party has different opinions on constitutional reform, so I will first try to revise Article 96,” which stipulates that more than two-thirds of both Diet chambers have to agree to propose a national referendum on any constitutional change.
The LDP’s draft calls for revising the Constitution to rename the Self-Defense Forces as the Kokubo-gun (National Defense Force), which sounds more militaristic in Japanese. The LDP says the party would retain the war-renouncing principle of the Constitution.
Abe also touched on relations with Seoul. He described South Korea as “the most important neighboring country” and one that shares basic values and interests with Japan.