Among the components that make up the conservative agenda advocated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one stands out for its potential to inflame international relations: a review of Japan's official stance on the forced recruitment of Asian and European women and girls into wartime army brothels.

Abe, who returned as prime minster in late December, has long called for a reassessment of the 1993 government statement acknowledging the issue and apologizing over it.

Any replacement for the so-called Kono statement would not only stir up tensions with China and present-day South Korea, where bitter memories of Japanese atrocities still linger, but also draw furor from Japan's closest ally, the United States, and other Western nations, a former ranking Foreign Ministry official warned.