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Japan's premier holds firm, won't be swayed by U.S.
CAMPBELL LAWMAKER URGES AN APOLOGY FOR SEX SLAVES
By Frank Davies
MediaNews Washington Bureau
San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:03/06/2007 02:00:39 AM PST
WASHINGTON - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed in parliament Monday that his government would not apologize for military brothels that enslaved women during World War II, even if the U.S. Congress urges him to do so.
But Abe's provocative comments Monday and similar remarks last week might boomerang, and boost the chances for passage of a U.S. House of Representatives resolution calling on Japan to make an official, formal apology for the kidnapping and imprisonment of as many as 200,000 women in Asia during the war.
The measure is sponsored by Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell, who is Japanese-American.
One Capitol Hill staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abe's comments had given the resolution a boost and some members - including House leaders - might push to take up the measure before Abe visits Washington, a trip tentatively set for late April.
Last week, Abe told reporters he saw "no evidence to prove" that the "comfort women," as they were called in Asia, had been coerced by the Japanese military. Last month, three women testified before Congress that Japanese soldiers kidnapped and brutalized them. Monday, Abe appeared to back away from some of what he said last week, saying he supported a 1993 government statement that acknowledged the military had at least an indirect role in forcing the women into slavery.
But Abe also called the testimony of the women "a complete fabrication."
Mark Peattie, a visiting scholar at the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University, said he was "dumbstruck by the stupidity" of Abe's comments last week. He said they undercut many experts, including him, who said the Japanese were making progress in coming to terms with the issue.
`I think these comments would give a tremendous boost to the House resolution," Peattie said. "This is like someone denying the Holocaust."
Honda said the prime minister's comments back up his complaint that the government has waffled in its statements about the country's role in running the brothels, and is trying to backtrack from a previous acknowledgment.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has not yet scheduled consideration of the resolution, which it passed last year, but which subsequently was blocked after lobbying from the Japanese government.
Honda's resolution says the Japanese government "should formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force's coercion of young women into sexual slavery."
In Japan, some observers said Abe's promise not to be swayed by a congressional resolution was an attempt to placate the conservative base of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which says the country should not apologize for some of its wartime actions.
But Minoru Morita, a political analyst in Tokyo, said Abe was effectively labeling women in their 80s as liars, creating a major public-relations problem for Japan.
"It just looks bad for the prime minister to be getting involved in these sorts of historical details," Morita said. "Plus, his argument isn't going to hold sway with world opinion, anyway."
The issue also could disturb a recent rapprochement between Japan and its neighbors. Relations with China and South Korea have been tense in recent years, in part because of lingering disagreements stemming from Japan's conquest of East Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Abe, however, has worked to repair relations since taking office in September.
His remarks last week prompted angry responses in South Korea and the Philippines. In Seoul, the Foreign Ministry accused Abe of "glossing over the historical truth."
The 1993 apology was made by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono but was not approved by the parliament. It came after a Japanese journalist uncovered official defense documents showing the military had a direct hand in running the brothels, a role Tokyo until that point had denied.
Victims and their supporters have pushed unsuccessfully for official government compensation. Japan set up a private fund for compensation in 1995 but has refused to provide government money. The fund will be dissolved at the end of this month.
The Associated Press and New York Times contributed to this report. Frank Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202)662-8921.