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May 28, 2017

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No plan to revise wartime sex-slave apology: Japan

TOKYO -- Japan has no plan to revise a landmark 1993 apology over wartime sex slavery, the government's top spokesman said Monday, despite a controversial review of the statement which has sparked a backlash at home and abroad.

The landmark apology, known as the Kono statement, acknowledged official complicity in the coercion of women from across Asia into a system of wartime brothels, an issue that draws particular resentment in neighboring South Korea.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has warned Japan that it would face "isolation" if it pushed ahead with a move to revisit the apology.

"The government does not intend to revise the Kono statement," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo Monday.

In 1993, after hearing testimony from 16 Korean women, the Kono statement offered "sincere apologies and remorse" to the women and vowed to face the historical facts squarely.

The current review was aimed at verifying historical facts, Suga said.

"There have also been suggestions that Japan might have negotiated with South Korea over the content of the apology" at the time, he added.

It was unclear what would happen if Tokyo's review was at odds with the official apology.

Japan and South Korea are considering holding talks at the vice-minister level as early as this week to help mend their strained ties, in a move that could open the door to a meeting of top officials, Japan's Jiji Press reported Monday.

Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki is to meet with his South Korean counterpart Cho Tae-Yong, the news agency said.

Respected historians say up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels.

But the government of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said evidence given by "comfort women" — a euphemism for those forced to work in military brothels — that forms the basis of the apology is to be re-examined.

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.

The move to revisit the statement 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.

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.

On Friday, a group of Japanese historians stood behind the apology, and slammed any move to change it as "unforgivable."

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