TV & Radio
The New York Times
March 27, 2007
Japan Leader Who Denied State Role in Wartime Sex Slavery Still Apologizes
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
TOKYO, March 26 — Facing increasing criticism for denying that Japan coerced women into sex slavery during World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe repeatedly refused Monday to acknowledge state responsibility in recruiting the “comfort women,” but offered them an apology.
In a debate in Parliament, under intense questioning by an opposition lawmaker, Mr. Abe refused to withdraw a recent statement in which he said there was no evidence that the military had forcibly recruited women to work in brothels established throughout Asia.
But Mr. Abe chose his words carefully on Monday to avoid repeating his earlier denial, saying only, “What I said about coercion during the news conference, all of it became news, so that’s the way it was.”
When Haruko Yoshikawa, a Communist member of Parliament, asked Mr. Abe whether he considered as proof of coercion the testimony given by former sex slaves in the United States House of Representatives recently, Mr. Abe said he had no comment on their testimony.
The House of Representatives is considering a nonbinding resolution that would call on Japan to unambiguously acknowledge its wartime slavery and apologize for it.
Prompted by Ms. Yoshikawa to make a statement toward surviving sex slaves, who are now mostly in their 80s, Mr. Abe said, “I express my sympathy for the hardships they suffered and offer my apology for the situation they found themselves in.”
Mr. Abe said he would adhere to a 1993 government spokesman’s statement that acknowledged Japan’s role in managing the wartime “comfort stations,” as well as in forcibly recruiting sex slaves. But his repeated denial of coercion contradicted the 1993 statement, Ms. Yoshikawa said. The State Department urged Japan to take responsibility for its role in the wartime sex slavery, though on Monday it described Mr. Abe’s apology as a “step forward.”
“But I think this is a very difficult issue, and we certainly would want to see the Japanese continue to address this and to deal with it in a forthright and responsible manner that acknowledges the gravity of the crimes that were committed,” said Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman. That kind of critical language is rarely used against Japan by Washington, which has tried to stay clear of the history-related problems that have roiled East Asia in recent years.
Mr. Abe has been under pressure from his right-wing base to revise or reject the 1993 statement. At the same time, his denial of coercion has sparked outrage in Asia and the United States.
Mr. Abe’s ratings have slid drastically since he became prime minister in September, and his comments about the sex slaves have risked undermining his initial success in improving relations with China and South Korea.
His denial of state coercion has drawn charges of hypocrisy, because Mr. Abe won his popularity by championing the cause of 17 Japanese allegedly abducted by North Korea.
But Mr. Abe told reporters that the abductions were “a completely different matter” from the sex slavery matter.