National / Politics

Nationalists press Abe to revisit Kono apology

Nippon Ishin ranks, others slam basis for 'comfort women' statement

by Ayako Mie

Staff Writer

Right-wing lawmakers are leaning harder on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to re-evaluate the government’s 1993 apology for the enslavement of women to serve as prostitutes for Japan’s wartime forces, in the face of international criticism against such an effort.

Members of the conservative Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) and other parties Monday held a public meeting to discuss their staunch opposition to the Kono statement, issued in 1993 by Yohei Kono, who was chief Cabinet secretary under then-Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa.

With the Kono statement, the government admitted for the first time that females were recruited against their will, including through coercion, to provide sex for Imperial Japanese soldiers and that the military at times played a direct role in rounding them up. The statement was drafted based on documents and testimony given by 16 Korean former “comfort women” picked by Seoul.

Some 500 people who attended Monday’s meeting, held on Girls’ Day, fervently applauded each time lawmakers said the statement was based on “falsifications” and called Kono a traitor. Nippon Ishin has about 60 members in the Diet.

Among the lawmakers was the senior vice minister of education, Yoshitaka Sakurada, who was warned Monday by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga not to attend because “it could cause misunderstanding.” The Abe Cabinet has so far maintained that it has “inherited” the views of its predecessors, including the Kono statement.

A voluntary resolution was adopted at the end of the meeting to demand that the government rethink the statement and summon Kono and former Ambassador to China Sakutaro Tanino, who were involved in drafting the statement, to the Diet.

“I heard from a former Japanese soldier that the comfort women thanked the military because they were able to send money back home. . . . The South Korean allegation that the Imperial Japanese military made women serve as sex slaves or forcefully recruited some 200,000 women is fabricated,” said Nippon Ishin member Nariaki Nakayama of the Lower House.

In Lower House Budget Committee debates over the past several weeks, Nippon Ishin member Hiroshi Yamada has grilled the conservative Abe’s team on the 1993 statement, claiming the Imperial Japanese Army never forcefully recruited females against their will and that the testimony of the 16 should be re-examined because it was never validated.

In response, Suga last week said the government would launch a team to re-examine the statement and share the results with the Diet. Suga also said the group will look into a report by the conservative Sankei Shimbun that said the 1993 statement was a collaborative effort by Seoul and Tokyo.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye last Saturday warned Japan not to revisit the apology. Yet some news reports indicate the Japanese public might support the move. A recent poll, by the Sankei, said that some 60 percent of the public thinks the statement should be re-examined.

“If the testimony is based on truth, the South Korean government should encourage us to scrutinize it. They are against it because they are aware that there are some issues with the statement,” Yamada said at the meeting.

Information from Kyodo added