Japan will not retract its 1993 apology for forcing women into sexual slavery in military brothels during the war, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday in an attempt to ease tensions with South Korea.
The confirmation by Abe followed similar remarks by some of his Cabinet members over the Kono statement that apologized over the wartime “comfort women,” who were mostly Koreans.
Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki visited Seoul earlier this week with the reported aim of conveying Tokyo’s position to the South Korean government.
“I’m not thinking about revising (the statement) under my Cabinet,” Abe told a session of the Upper House Budget Committee. “My heart breaks when I consider the immeasurable pain” inflicted on those women.
The remarks can be seen as dismissing speculation that Japan may alter or water down the statement issued in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.
Such speculation, and fierce criticism by South Korea, resulted from the Abe administration’s plan to scrutinize how the Kono statement was compiled, including “verifying” the testimony of 16 South Korean former comfort women that formed the basis for the apology.
The Kono statement acknowledged for the first time the involvement of the military and the use of coercion in recruiting females to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. But some conservative politicians have recently called for a rethink of the statement, claiming it was based on insufficient evidence.
Abe, whose perceived right-leaning policy has angered victims of Japan’s wartime militarism, particularly China and South Korea, also told the committee that he stands by Japan’s formal apology issued in 1995 to wartime victims.
“As for my own historical views, I have taken the position held by previous Cabinets,” he said, referring to the 1995 statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressing Japan’s feelings of “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology.”