WASHINGTON – The U.S. Congressional Research Service has noted that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s comments and actions on historical issues “have raised concern that Tokyo could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests.”
In a report dated May 1, the research arm of Congress said Abe is known as a “strong nationalist” and that his approach to issues relating to wartime sex slaves, history textbooks and visits to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine “will be closely monitored” not just by China and South Korea but also by the United States.
Japan’s ties with China and South Korea, already strained by territorial disputes, have worsened as a result of comments by Abe that appear to gloss over Japan’s aggression during World War II. One comment suggested that the word “aggression” is defined differently from country to country.
The report says that if Abe revises a 1993 government statement on the “comfort women,” it “would be sure to degrade Tokyo’s relations with South Korea and other countries.”
The 1993 statement referred to by the euphemistic phrase acknowledged the Japanese military’s responsibility for forcefully recruiting Korean women and girls into sexual servitude and apologized to these women.
Although Abe had suggested revising the statement before becoming prime minister, his administration said this week it will not revise Japan’s stance on the comfort women issue.
The report also notes that visits to Yasukuni Shrine last month by more than 170 lawmakers, including four Cabinet ministers, also drew protests from China and South Korea.
The Shinto facility is seen by Japan’s neighbors as glorifying Japanese militarism, in part because it honors people convicted as Class-A criminals along with millions of Japan’s war dead.
In Seoul on Thursday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman repeated calls for Japanese leaders to have a correct recognition of history, referring to the Cabinet members’ recent visits to Yasukuni.
“To have a correct recognition of the history is easy to do. It’s just to admit misdeeds and not to repeat those misdeeds,” Cho Tai Young told a press briefing.
“We made our clearest position known countless (times). Japanese leaders should look honestly at what happened in the past and that’s crucial in developing ties between South Korea and Japan and also maintaining stability in the region,” Cho said.
Abe raised hackles in South Korea and other countries in the region that were invaded by Japan by suggesting that what constitutes an “invasion” really depends on the point of view of individual countries, as there is no internationally fixed definition.