Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Monday there is no need for Japan to make a fresh apology for forcing women from other parts of Asia into sexual servitude for the Japanese military during the war, even if the U.S. Congress passes a resolution calling on him to do so.
“We will not apologize because of a resolution,” Abe told the House of Councilors Budget Committee, referring to the draft resolution on the table at the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The draft resolution is not based on objective facts nor does it reflect the Japanese government’s responses so far,” he said.
Abe reiterated he will stand by the government’s 1993 statement acknowledging and apologizing for the forced recruitment of what Japan euphemistically referred to as “comfort women” in Japanese-occupied territories, including the Korean Peninsula and China. He was responding to a question from a Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker.
Abe made the remarks after drawing a strong protest from South Korea by saying last week there is no evidence to back claims that the Japanese military used coercion to force the women into frontline brothels.
Tokyo, in the 1993 statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, acknowledged the Imperial Japanese Army was involved in forcing women in Asia into sexual servitude for its soldiers at frontline brothels.
Abe told Monday’s committee session that there was no evidence showing that Japanese military officials took the women by force — such as by kidnapping — to the brothels — again denying there was coercion by the military in a strict sense.
But he acknowledged that private-sector businesses that acted as agents for the military sometimes used force on the women.
Separately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a news conference that overseas criticism of Abe’s comments last week “are not based on correct interpretation of the prime minister’s remarks.”
“There may have been coercion in a broad sense in recruiting the women, but we do not believe that the women were physically taken by force” by the military to the frontline brothels, Shiozaki said, noting that Abe was referring to the more “narrow definition” of coercion.
He also said the government has “no plans to withdraw or change” the 1993 government statement.
In the 1993 statement, Kono, now speaker of the Lower House, said the comfort women were mainly recruited by businesses that worked on the behest of the military, which was directly and indirectly involved in establishing and running the frontline brothels as well as in the transfer of the women.
In many cases the women were recruited against their will — either by coercion or deception — and the military was directly and indirectly involved in such operations, according to the statement.
Some historians estimate that up to 200,000 women from the Korean Peninsula, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, the present-day Indonesia and elsewhere were forced into sexual servitude by the wartime Japanese military in the 1930s and ’40s, but others dispute this view.
In Washington, Democratic Rep. Mike Honda of California and some powerful Republicans submitted the resolution on Jan. 31 urging Japan’s prime minister to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner” for the former sex slaves.
Japan has protested the resolution, saying prime ministers have repeatedly offered apologies, but prospects are high it will clear the Democrat-controlled Congress. Four similar bills failed to reach a full House vote in past years under the previous Republican majority.
A House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee heard testimony in mid-February from three women who said they were forced to provide sex for the Japanese military during the war.
Lawmakers in the Liberal Democratic Party, which Abe heads, had planned to urge the prime minister to “review” the 1993 statement, but deferred the plan last week after Abe said he would abide by it. The LDP lawmakers decided instead to call on the government to look into the matter and try to win a “correct understanding” from the U.S.
Abe is planning to visit the U.S. this spring.