A Japanese panel confirmed the validity of a study that led to Japan’s landmark 1993 apology for forcing Asian women into wartime prostitution, even as South Korea blasted the review as a move that “picks again at the painful wounds” of victims.
The probe, whose results were released Friday, shows how even 70 years later, World War II history remains an extremely sensitive topic in East Asia, especially when Japan’s relations with its two closest neighbors are soured by territorial disputes. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been criticized by South Korea and China for backpedaling from past Japanese apologies and acknowledgements of wartime atrocities, and the two countries saw the investigation into about 250 documents as an attempt to undermine the 1993 apology.
Historians say 20,000 to 200,000 women from across Asia, many of them Koreans, were forced to provide sex to Japan’s front-line soldiers. Japanese nationalists contend that the so-called “comfort women” in wartime brothels were voluntary prostitutes, not sex slaves, and that Japan has been unfairly criticized for a practice they say is common in any country at war. The five-member panel examined how the study, which included interviews with 16 former Korean victims, was conducted. It did not evaluate its historical findings.
“We concluded that the content of the study was valid,” said lawyer Keiichi Tadaki, who headed the group. But Seoul criticized the review as contradictory, meaningless and unnecessary, saying that Tokyo should know that any action “that again picks at the painful wounds of the victims will never be forgiven by the international society,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kwang-il. He urged Japan to admit its responsibility and immediately propose a solution that the elderly victims can accept.
Many South Korean women have demanded a full apology accompanied by official government compensation. In 1995, Japan provided through a private fund 2 million yen ($20,000) each to about 280 women in the Philippines, Taiwan and South Korea, and funded nursing homes and medical assistance for Indonesian and former Dutch sex slaves. In South Korea, only seven women accepted the money out of more than 200 eligible recipients.
Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga reiterated Abe’s pledge not to revise the 1993 apology, offered by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono and known as the “Kono Statement,” which acknowledged that many women were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers. Suga added that evaluation of the historical evidence should be left up to historians and scholars. “South Korea is one of Japan’s most important neighbors and we continue to seek to improve our relations through various levels of dialogue,” Suga said.
As the Korean women grow older, they and supporters have stepped up their protests, including building statues in the U.S. to gain international support for their cause, upsetting the Japanese rightists.
The panel continued…