Japan's ruling party will conduct a new study on wartime sex slaves and the government will provide documents as needed, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday, rejecting a call from within his party for the government to commission the research.
Abe has stirred anger with remarks that appeared to question the state's role in forcing women to work in brothels during World War II, although he has also said a 1993 apology acknowledging coercion remained in effect.
"The party will conduct the research," Abe told reporters Thursday. "The government will cooperate as needed by providing materials."
Earlier, Abe was presented with a request for a new government investigation by a group of about 130 ruling party lawmakers whose members argue that the statement went too far in acknowledging coercion by the military and the government.
"For the sake of Japanese honor, and for the honor of those Japanese who sacrificed their lives, we should state the facts," said former Education Minister Nariaki Nakayama, who heads the group denying victims' accounts of being confined and beaten by Japanese soldiers at the brothels.
Reopening the question is likely to spark fresh outrage overseas ahead of an expected visit to Tokyo by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in April and a trip by Abe to Washington later that month.
Abe said this week that he would not offer a new apology even if US lawmakers adopt a resolution calling for one.
A non-binding resolution introduced by US Congressman Michael Honda, a California Democrat, calls on Japan to unambiguously apologize for the suffering that thousands of Asian women endured at the hands of its Imperial Army.
Analysts say Abe's recent comments were intended to bolster support from conservatives. He has sought to distinguish between a "broad" notion of coercion which he has said may have occurred while rejecting kidnappings by military officers.
China and both Koreas have expressed outrage over his recent remarks and US media have also taken up the topic.
"Abe took office trying to improve relations with China and (South) Korea, but he has now torpedoed them by pandering to the Japanese right wing's most disgusting tendencies toward historical revisionism," the Los Angeles Times said in an editorial.
(China Daily via agencies March 9, 2007)