China on Tuesday expressed anger over the comments of an outspoken nationalist Japanese mayor regarding forced prostitution during World War II.
Toru Hashimoto, the young, brash mayor of Osaka, said on Monday that the Japanese military’s forced prostitution of Asian women before and during World War II was necessary to “maintain discipline” in the ranks and provide rest for soldiers who risked their lives in battle.
China’s Foreign Ministry criticised the mayor’s comments and saw them as further evidence of a rightward drift in Japanese politics under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“The conscription of military sex slaves through force was a severe crime the Japanese militarists committed in World War II. It is a major human rights issue, which concerns the personal dignity of the victims. We are appalled and indignant about the Japanese politician boldly challenging humanity and justice,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei.
Historians say up to 200-thousand women, mainly from the Korean Peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels.
“The way they treat their history will determine the way they walk towards the future. As to which choice they will make, the Asian people and the world will wait and see,” said Hong.
As well as in China, Hashimoto’s comments have raised ire in other neighbouring countries that bore the brunt of Japan’s wartime aggression and have long complained that Japan has failed to fully atone for wartime atrocities.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry expressed disappointment over what it called a senior Japanese official’s serious lack of historical understanding and respect for women’s rights.
It asked Japan’s leaders to reflect on their country’s imperial past, including grave human rights violations, and correct anachronistic historical views.
“There’s a mountain of iron-hard evidence for the crimes they committed in WWII,” said Hong.
“We hope they will face up to and reflect on their aggressive history, correctly treat the history, and only by doing that can they attain the trust and respect from their Asian neighbours and the international community.”
Hashimoto’s comments came amid continuing criticism of Abe’s earlier pledges to revise Japan’s past apologies for wartime atrocities.
Before he took office in December, Abe had advocated revising a 1993 statement by then Prime Minister Yohei Kono acknowledging and expressing remorse for the suffering caused to the sexual slaves of Japanese troops.
Abe has acknowledged “comfort women” existed but has denied they were coerced into prostitution, citing a lack of official evidence.
Recently, top officials in Abe’s government have appeared to backpedal on suggestions the government might revise those apologies, apparently hoping to ease tensions with South Korea and China and address US concerns about Abe’s nationalist agenda.
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