Abe cries ‘slander’ over war history

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Abe cries ‘slander’ over war history

Amid concerns from Seoul over the Japanese government’s revisionist views on history, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe remarked yesterday that the issue of wartime sexual slavery by its military was “groundless slander.”

“A groundless slander that Japan as a nation had sex slaves is spreading across the world,” he said at a lower house budget committee meeting at the National Diet.

“We will need to exceed previous efforts in order promote Japan’s position across the world,” he added, effectively trivializing the issue as a whole.

The prime minister’s comments denying the Imperial Japanese Army’s forcible recruitment of women and girls into military comfort stations prior to and during World War II follows Abe’s request to meet with President Park Geun-hye in the fall.

The suggestion was made in a handwritten letter, which he had former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori personally deliver late last month.

It also comes amid gestures between the two countries to patch up relations before next year, which marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of ties between Seoul and Tokyo.

On Wednesday, First Vice Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yong met with his Japanese counterpart Akitaka Saiki in Tokyo, where the two held a strategic dialogue for the first time in nearly two years.

Such actions have been interpreted by Seoul and by the international community as an attempt by the Japanese administration to glorify its wartime aggressions.

Seoul has repeatedly stated that an official apology from Tokyo to its wartime victims would be a means to resolving tense bilateral relations.

But at the Diet yesterday, Abe was focused on building up Japan’s national image.

“The Asahi Shimbun’s false reporting [on the comfort women issue] has hurt many people and damaged Japan’s image greatly,” he said.

On Thursday, the Asahi Shimbun set up a third-party committee to evaluate its alleged false coverage of the “comfort women” issue, as it is commonly known.

The seven-person committee, comprised of scholars, journalists and a former judge, will hold its first meeting on Thursday in response to a series of articles published in the newspaper in the 1980s and ’90s that were based on testimony by Seiji Yoshida.

At the time, the former Imperial Japanese Army soldier acknowledged that he had forcibly abducted young women from Jeju Island during Japan’s colonial rule over Korea to serve in military “comfort stations.”

The newspaper last month retracted the articles following scrutiny and claimed that Yoshida’s testimony could not be verified.

In a statement last week, a group of U.S. scholars on Asia expressed concern that right-wing Japanese media and the Abe administration imply “strongly that Yoshida’s original claim was an important source of Western misunderstanding of the comfort women system.”

Negating the Yoshida testimony does not change the United States’ or the international community’s understanding of the issue, it added.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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