by Jon Day
TOKYO, Feb. 24 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese government said Monday it is mulling the idea of revising its historic apology for its forcible conscription of wartime sex slaves, in a move likely to draw the ire of neighboring countries who suffered under Japan's brutal imperial regime during WWII. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that evidence given by comfort women -- a euphemism used to describe sex slaves who served Japanese soldiers in wartime -- will be reexamined along with the 1993 Kono Statement.
"The evidence given by comfort women who were forced to work in military brothels and forms the basis of the 1993 Kono Statement, is to be re-examined," Suga said. "The official statements of the comfort women were taken on the premise that their evidence would be heard behind closed doors. The Japanese government will consider whether there can be any revisions made while trying to respect the confidence in which the original statements were given, Japan's top government spokesperson said.
Suga's remarks come at a time when Japan has drawn serious flak from the international community for its increasingly right- leaning stance, revisionist maneuvers, military expansion and nationalistic gaffes that have sought to gloss over Japan's war time responsibilities, political analysts have said.
Leading historians maintain that Japan's Imperial Army forced between around 200,000 and 400,000 girls and women into sexual slavery in the countries it occupied during the war, including Korea, China, the Philippines, and a number of other countries in Southeast Asia. Based on incontrovertible historical evidence and testimony given by 16 Korean women, a statement was issued by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, which admitted Japan's complicity, coercion and culpability for the crimes and offered the nation's sincere apologies and remorse to those affected.
The 1993 Kono Statement has become an internationally recognized benchmark of Japan's position on the issue and maintains that according to the government's own studies, women were recruited to work in brothels against their will through " coaxing and coercion" and they were forced to "live in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere."
The statement adds that the "undeniable" act of the military authorities of the day, "severely injured the honor and dignity of many women."
"The government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women," the statement said.
In addition, Kono's statement said the Japanese government will "face squarely the historical facts" instead of evading them. But Japan's latest moves are aimed at revising their stance on the issue, observers said, with Suga telling parliament last week that the government plans to set up a verification committee to reevaluate the validity of the testimonies provided by the 16 women.
As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) chart a nationalist course for the country, with school books being revised to gloss over Japan's wartime atrocities, moves being made towards revising the nation's war- renouncing Constitution, and as the nation beefs up its military, the fires of controversy have been further stoked recently by some of Abe's handpicked lackeys.
The head of Japan's national broadcaster NHK, Katsuto Momii stated during his inaugural news conference that "comfort women" existed in any country at war, not just Japan, but also France and Germany, and blasted South Korea for continuing to call for compensation for these women, claiming the matter had already been concluded with the signing of a peace treaty.
Momii, who later retracted his comments although he maintained they are his true sentiments, added that for him it was "puzzling" why there remains so much international condemnation of Japan's involvement in war-time sexual slavery.
Two other government-picked NHK bigwigs were also blasted by the international community, one of whom claimed publicly that the Nanjing Massacre during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 " never happened," and the other heaped praise on an ultra-right wing nationalist who committed ritual suicide in the offices of a popular newspaper here in 1993.
With Abe's ill-advised visit to a war-linked shrine in December, which honors the souls of 2.5 million war dead including 14 Class- A convicted war criminals, and stands as a painful reminder to Japan's neighbors of its brutal, militaristic rule during Word War II, political observers believe that Japan is looking to rewrite history as it pushes forward a new nationalistic agenda.
During his first stint as prime minister between 2006-2007, Abe himself said there was "no proof" of coercion regarding the forced conscription of comfort women during the war and his deputy chief cabinet secretary at the time, Hakubun Shimomura, also said is was possible the Japanese Army was "not involved."
More recently, Toru Hashimoto, co-leader of the nationalist Japan Restoration Party, who's seeking reelection as Osaka's mayor in a snap-election next month, instigated by his own resignation, commented that there was "no proof" that the Japanese military had "forcibly recruited comfort women." "There's no doubt among political insiders that the prime minister, his senior ministers and a number of powerful bureaucrats are actively attempting to alter the perception of Japan's history, as they methodically set about igniting a new nationalistic ideology, to grant them more autonomy to achieve their jingoistic goals," political analyst Teruhisa Muramatsu told Xinhua. "It's a shame for the people of Japan -- the regular peace- loving citizens -- but with no serious opposition to the LDP, these are the facts as they stand. The LDP is running amok," he said.