TOKYO – A lawmaker from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) on Thursday stated that “comfort women,” a euphemism used for sex slaves coerced and conscripted by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during WWII, were prostitutes and not victims.
The highly controversial remarks made by Yoshitaka Sakurada, a former senior vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, to a group of other LDP lawmakers is likely to draw the ire of South Korea, as well as other countries that saw young girls and women forced to work in military brothels during Japan’s brutal wartime occupation of East Asia, most notably the Korean Peninsula and China.
Sakurada said that the “comfort women” were “prostitutes by occupation,” and that people are “heavily misled by propaganda work handling them as if they were victims.”
“Because comfort women are hesitant to say they were prostitutes, I suspect wrong perceptions may have been spread in Japan and South Korea,” he went on to say.
The remarks will come as a blow to an agreement struck between Japan and South Korea which saw Japan account for its culpability in forcing women to work in military brothels during WWII, with Japan pledging to pay 1 billion yen (around USD8.3 million) from its national budget to create a new foundation to support the former comfort women and to be set up in South Korea.
The accord saw Abe in December renewing by proxy an official apology for the wartime travesty, expressing his most sincere apologies and remorse to all those who suffered “immeasurable and incurable physical and mental wounds” as comfort women.
Politicians and political analysts here alike had believed the divide between the two countries may have finally been bridged on this long-standing impasse between the two nations to a degree.
But along with Japan thereafter saying its hefty contribution to set up a fund for the surviving victims will be dependent on the removal of a “comfort women” statue in Seoul, Sakurada’s comments will more than likely draw harsh criticism from South Korea and other nations whose female citizens were forced to work as sex slaves, and possibly impair the newly improved bilateral ties.
Japan’s top government spokesperson, declining to comment directly on Sakurada’s remarks, reiterated Thursday that an accord had been reached between Japan and South Korea, adding that he couldn’t respond to every LDP lawmakers remarks.
“All I can say is an agreement was reached between the foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea last year,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, adding that he, “should not respond to every remark by a lawmaker.”
Local media quoted a government source as saying that the ill-considered remarks would not affect bilateral relations and that the accord would go ahead as agreed, but Sakurada adding that prostitution had been an “occupation” until a prostitution prevention law came into effect after WWII, will patently be denounced by South Korea and other victim nations.
Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye only met for the first time face-to-face in November due to the “comfort women” issue, misperceptions of history and an ongoing territorial dispute.
Japan initially conceding that its current government recognizes its responsibility over the issue and the “grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women,” caused by the Imperial Japanese Army during its occupation, seemingly cemented the new accord, but Abe’s proviso and Sakurada’ s comments Thursday could see the deal unravel, with some analysts suggesting that Japan was, in making the accord, trying to “purchase” a clear conscience in line with its revisionist agenda, while others dismissed the move as a PR push ahead of the upper house elections here next summer.
Also at question is how Japan plans to restore the honor and dignity of comfort women from other countries who were similarly brutalized by Japan during the war.
The Imperial Japanese Army also forced its own nationals to work in some of its sadistic military brothels.