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The New York Times
Abe Rejects Japan’s Files on War Sex
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: March 2, 2007
TOKYO, March 1 — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Thursday that Japan’s military had forced foreign women into sexual slavery during World War II, contradicting the Japanese government’s longtime official position.
Mr. Abe’s statement was the clearest so far that the government was preparing to reject a 1993 government statement that acknowledged the military’s role in setting up brothels and forcing, either directly or indirectly, women into sexual slavery. That declaration also offered an apology to the women, euphemistically called “comfort women.”
“There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it,” Mr. Abe told reporters. “So, in respect to this declaration, you have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly.”
The United States House of Representatives has begun debating a resolution that would call on Tokyo to “apologize for and acknowledge” the military’s role in wartime sex slavery.
But at the same time, in keeping with a recent trend to revise Japan’s wartime history, a group of conservatives in the governing Liberal Democratic Party is stepping up calls to rescind the 1993 declaration. Mr. Abe, whose approval ratings have been plummeting over a series of scandals and perceived weak leadership, seemed to side with this group. A nationalist who has led efforts to revise wartime history, Mr. Abe softened his tone after becoming prime minister last fall. In fact, he first said he recognized the validity of the declaration, angering his conservative base.
“Some say it is useful to compare the brothels to college cafeterias run by private companies, who recruit their own staff, procure foodstuffs and set prices,” Nariaki Nakayama, the leader of 120 lawmakers who want to revise the declaration, said Thursday.
“Where there’s demand, business crops up,” Mr. Nakayama said, according to The Associated Press. “But to say women were forced by the Japanese military into service is off the mark. This issue must be reconsidered, based on truth, for the sake of Japanese honor.”
Historians believe some 200,000 women — Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipinos, as well as Japanese, Dutch and other European women — served in Japanese military brothels. For decades, Japan denied that its military had been involved, calling the brothels private enterprises and the women prostitutes.
But in 1992, a Japanese historian, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, outraged by government denials, went to the Self-Defense Agency’s library and unearthed, after two days of searching, documents revealing military involvement in establishing brothels. One was titled “Regarding the Recruitment of Women for Military Brothels.” Faced with this evidence, the government acknowledged its role and issued the declaration.
But the response angered people across the political spectrum. The women and their supporters said that the government was not fully acknowledging its responsibility because the declaration was issued by Yohei Kono, then chief cabinet secretary, and not adopted by Parliament. It is known inside Japan simply as the “Kono Statement.”
What is more, supporters accused the government of evading direct responsibility by establishing a private, nongovernment fund to compensate the women. Many former sex slaves have refused to accept compensation from this fund.
But conservatives said the declaration went too far in acknowledging the military’s role in recruiting the women. While the documents showed that the military established the facilities, Mr. Yoshimi did not find documentation that the military had forcibly recruited the women. Conservatives have seized on this distinction to attack the declaration.
Supporters of the women say that the Japanese authorities famously burned incriminating documents or kept them hidden.
At the same time, many former sex slaves have stepped forward in recent years with their stories. Three testified in the United States Congress recently, saying that Japanese soldiers had kidnapped them and forced them to have sex with dozens of soldiers a day.
Prime Minister Denies Women Were Forced Into WWII Brothels