An aide to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Sunday that Japan should consider issuing a new political statement on wartime sex slavery, if fresh facts are found while the government verifies how its 1993 apology to the “comfort women” was compiled.
“It would not be strange to issue a new political statement if new findings emerge,” Koichi Hagiuda, a special advisor to Abe in his capacity as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, told reporters in Tokyo. Hagiuda said the idea was his “personal view.”
Earlier in the month, Abe confirmed that his team will not retract or alter the 1993 apology known as the Kono statement for forcing women into sexual slavery during World War II.
The statement, issued by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, acknowledged for the first time that the military played a role in coercing mostly Asian girls and women into providing sex to Japanese soldiers and sailors at organized military brothels. The former sex slaves are known euphemistically in Japan as the “ianfu,” or comfort women.
Hagiuda also said on a TV program earlier in the day that Abe “did not deny” the possibility of issuing a new statement, despite his intention to uphold the Kono statement.
The government said it will conduct more research on the testimonies of the former Korean sex slaves whose information served as the basis for the Kono statement, sparking speculation that Tokyo may alter or water down the apology.
Later in the day, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official criticized Hagiuda’s comments as “quite regrettable and unacceptable.”
The remarks were made ahead of a trilateral summit involving the United States, Japan and South Korea, where Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are finally expected to hold their first formal meeting in an attempt to thaw their frigid bilateral ties.
Park was inaugurated in February 2013.
The meeting is expected to be held Tuesday on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands.
In January, Hagiuda slammed U.S. criticism of Abe’s visit on Dec. 26 to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, saying that Republican-led administrations would not have responded in the fashion that the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama did.
Washington expressed “disappointment” with Abe’s visit to the Shinto facility, which honors Class-A war criminals along with the nation’s war dead.