Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday there was no evidence of coercion by Japan's wartime government in using Asian women as sex slaves, backtracking from a landmark 1993 statement in which the Japanese government acknowledged that it set up and ran brothels for its troops in the last century.
"The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion," Abe told a group of reporters Thursday. "We have to take it from there."
Abe's remarks follow a recent US congressional resolution calling for Japan's leader to "formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility" for using "comfort women" a Japanese euphemism for women forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.
Japan objects to the resolution, which has led to unease in an otherwise strong US-Japanese relationship.
Abe's backtracking also comes amid moves by a group of ruling party lawmakers to urge a revision to Japan's so-called Kono Statement, issued in 1993 by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, which clearly states that Japan's wartime military was involved in setting up and operating brothels, and sometimes recruited women with coercion.
The statement has been attacked by rightists in Japan, who argue that the sex slaves were in fact prostitutes working willingly for independent contractors, and were not coerced into servitude by the military.
Historians say that up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers in brothels run by the military government as so-called "comfort women" during World War II.
After decades of denial, incriminating defense documents discovered in 1992 forced the government to acknowledge that the military government ran brothels populated by women forcibly taken from their homes.
Japanese leaders have since repeatedly apologized, including former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who said in 2001 that he felt sincere remorse over the comfort women's "immeasurable and painful experiences."
But Japan has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by postwar treaties. Instead, a private fund created in 1995 by the Japanese government but funded by private donations has provided a way for Japan to compensate former sex slaves without offering official government compensation. Many comfort women have rejected the fund.
Supporters of the US resolution want an apology similar to the one the US government gave to Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during World War II. That apology was approved by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1988.
(China Daily via agencies March 2, 2007)