The possibility of a revision to the landmark apology, known as
the Kono Statement, drew outrage from South Korea and China, from
where many of the "comfort women" — as the women who served in the
brothels are known in Japan — were recruited.
The move comes as remarks on the wartime past by aides to Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe raise concerns about his increasingly
conservative agenda, aimed at bolstering the military and recasting
history with a less apologetic tone.
Japan's ties with South Korea are frayed by a territorial row and
the legacy of its 1910-1945 colonization of the Korean peninsula,
including the question of compensation and an apology to women
forced to serve in military brothels in World War Two.
In 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued a statement
recognizing the involvement of military authorities in the brothel
system and apologizing for the women's suffering.
The statement was based in part on the testimony of 16 South Korean
women who had served in the brothels.
Current Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeated on Friday
that the government would re-examine the women's testimony. But he
sidestepped a direct reply when asked whether this might lead to a
revision of the Kono statement.
"We will review their testimony," Suga told a news conference after
being asked repeatedly about the issue.
He initially promised a re-examination of the women's testimony on
Thursday in comments to a parliamentary committee.
CHINESE, SOUTH KOREAN DENUNCIATIONS
The Chinese Foreign Ministry denounced the recruitment of comfort
women as "a serious crime against humanity".
"Any attempt by Japan to deny this crime and any move attempting to
overturn the case of the history of invasion would be met with
strong opposition from both the majority of the victims from
countries and the international community," spokeswoman Hua Chunying
Hua told a news briefing in Beijing.
South Korea's Foreign
Ministry said Seoul could accept no attempt by Japan to raise
questions "about whether there was coercion in the recruitment,
transport and management of comfort women that it itself had
recognized through the Kono statement".
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At least one political group, the nationalist Japan Restoration
Party, which Abe's government looks to for support on selected
issues, called this week for revision of the 1993 declaration. It
criticized Japanese foreign policy for aiming principally not to
"rock the boat" in Asia.
"...We are starting a citizens' movement and petition drive calling
on the government to revise the Kono statement which is concerned
with the 'comfort women problem'," it said.
Abe came under fire abroad during his first tenure from 2006-2007
for denying government involvement in forcing women to work in the
military brothels during World War Two.
In a cabinet statement issued then, his government said there was no
proof that either the military or government officials had kidnapped
women, but also said it was continuing the position expressed by
Abe said in parliament on Thursday that Japan had caused great pain
in Asia and elsewhere in the past. His government would stick by
past apologies and the door was open for dialogue with Beijing and
Seoul, he added.
Last December, Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, where convicted
war criminals are honored along with war dead, further straining
relations with China and South Korea.
The visit also prompted a rare statement of "disappointment" from
the United States.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in
Beijing and Jack Kim in Seoul, editing by Jeremy Laurence and Ron Popeski)
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