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PM Abe says 'no change' to wartime sex slave apology

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday that his government would not revise a landmark 1993 “comfort women” apology, and said he was “deeply pained” by the suffering of women drawn into a system of wartime brothels.

Abe, who has made similar remarks in the past, has faced criticism for his government's plan to review what is known as the Kono statement, which acknowledged official complicity in the coercion of military sex slaves, a historical legacy that draws raw resentment in neighboring South Korea.

Respected historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to serve Japanese soldiers. They are sometimes called “comfort women.”

On Friday, Abe said that his cabinet “upholds the position on the recognition of history outlined by the previous administrations in its entirety” including the Kono statement.

“With regard to the comfort women issue, I am deeply pained to think of the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering, a feeling I share equally with my predecessors,” he told a parliamentary committee, according to a statement issued by the ministry of foreign affairs.

“The Kono Statement addresses this issue ... As my Chief Cabinet Secretary (Yoshihide) Suga stated in press conferences, the Abe cabinet has no intention to review it.”

Suga, the government's top spokesman, said Monday that there was no plan to revise the statement, adding that Tokyo's review was aimed at verifying historical facts, and to determine if South Korea was involved in drafting its text.

Neither Suga's comments, nor the latest remarks from Abe, clarified what would happen if Tokyo's review was at odds with the official apology.

'History should not be politicized'

In 1993, after hearing testimony from 16 Korean women, Japan offered “sincere apologies and remorse” to the women and vowed to face the historical facts squarely.

But repeated wavering on the issue among senior right-wing politicians has contributed to a feeling in South Korea that Japan is in denial and is not sufficiently remorseful.

Some Japanese conservatives have responded that Tokyo has repeatedly apologized and that the issue was being used for political gain.

“As I have stated earlier, we must be humble in front of history,” Abe also said Friday.

But he added that: “history should not be politicized or be turned into a diplomatic issue. Research on history should be entrusted to experts and historians.”

On Thursday, South Korea signaled that it would not go ahead with a mooted leaders' summit with Japan, after talks between top diplomats failed to produce a breakthrough on their badly strained ties.

The countries' vice foreign ministers met Wednesday in a bid to thaw relations, which remain frosty over emotive issues linked to Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule, including the wartime sex slaves and a territorial dispute.

Abe, who came to power December 2012, is an unpopular figure in South Korea and has not held summit talks with President Park Geun-hye, who has warned Japan that it would face “isolation” if it revisited the apology.

The move has raised eyebrows not only in South Korea, but also in the United States and among Japanese historians.

A senior official at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo has expressed “strong concern” over Tokyo's plans, the Tokyo Broadcasting System reported Monday.

An embassy press officer declined to comment on the report at the time.

Also Monday, in an editorial in the English-language Japan Times, Hugh Cortazzi, Britain's ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984, warned that Abe “has endorsed comments that seem aimed at undermining ... the 1993 Kono apology.”

“Sadly, sensitivity is not a quality that comes easily to Japanese politicians,” he added.

Last week, a group of Japanese historians stood behind the apology, and slammed any move to change it as “unforgivable.”

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In this photo provided by Kyodo News via AP, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives an answer during a meeting of the Upper House Budget Committee in Tokyo on Friday, March 14. Abe said his government is not considering a revision of the country's 1993 apology for forcing South Korean and other women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II. (AP)

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