WASHINGTON – The lawmakers raised the issue two days before a White House visit by the conservative Abe, whose previous prime ministership was dogged by historical issues but who is now seen as increasingly pragmatic.
Rep. Mike Honda, who spearheaded a 2007 House resolution that took Japan to task over its wartime sex slaves, and Rep. Steve Israel voiced “serious concern” about the Abe government’s stance.
In a letter, the two Democratic lawmakers wrote that if Japan replaces a 1993 apology with a watered-down version, it “would have grave implications for the U.S.-Japanese relationship and could ignite unnecessary tension and provocation with neighboring countries.”
Historians say about 200,000 “comfort women” from the Korean Peninsula, China, the Philippines and elsewhere were drafted into Japanese military brothels. The legacy remains a particular sore point in Japan’s relations with South Korea.
In the 1993 statement, issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, Japan offered “sincere apologies” for the “immeasurable pain and suffering” inflicted on the comfort women, as they were euphemistically referred to by Japan. Two years later, Tokyo issued a broader apology, under then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, expressing “deep remorse” for the wartime suffering that Japan brought about.
Abe, whose grandfather was a wartime Cabinet minister, raised controversy during his 2006-2007 prime ministership for his statements that appeared to play down Japan’s culpability over the sex slaves, and after leaving office he called for a revised apology.
The 1993 apology is passionately opposed by conservatives who contend that Japan did not directly coerce the females into sexual slavery.
Since returning to office in December, Abe said he plans a new “future-oriented” statement on the war.
He has declined comment on the comfort women apology, suggesting it was not under his purview as it was issued not by a prime minister but by Kono.
Honda, who was interned during World War II due to his Japanese ancestry, said that aging former comfort women were “still waiting for an appropriate apology” from Japan.
“Government is a living, breathing organism that is responsible for its past, present and future,” Honda said.
“As someone who was put into an internment camp as an infant during World War II, I know reconciliation through government actions, to admit error, are the only ones likely to be long-lasting,” he said.