Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pursuing dead-end diplomacy in East Asia at precisely a time when Japan most needs to shore up relations with neighbors so as to position itself well for China's ongoing rise. Alas, he doesn't grasp that regional reconciliation over history should be his calling card, not his nemesis.

August 4 marks the 20th anniversary of the Kono Statement, the apology for the "comfort women" system issued on behalf of the Japanese government in 1993 by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono. That system of wartime sexual slavery involved tens of thousands of teenage girls, mostly from the then Japanese colony of Korea. It started in 1932 and lasted until 1945.

The government had always denied the system even existed until the inconvenient discovery in January 1992 by Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a professor at Chuo University, of archival documents in the Defense Agency Library. In two days of digging, he found what the Japanese government had been unable to locate for decades — documents proving the military's direct role in managing the network of wartime brothels known as "comfort stations."