TOKYO: Japanese academics Monday urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to renew apologies for the country’s imperialist past and offer to compensate victims of its wartime brothel system, in the latest intervention from educationalists.
The move comes as the nationalist Abe prepares a statement he is expected to deliver in August. It is being closely watched for any sign of backsliding on previous Japanese apologies.
Nearly 200 academics including experts on Japanese and Korean history signed the statement imploring Abe to repeat previous explicit prime ministerial apologies for Japanese violence.
The statement, also signed by dozens of journalists, lawyers and rights activists, said Abe’s expected announcement “must reaffirm that invasion and colonial control caused harm and pain to neighbor countries… and it must express renewed sentiments of regret and apology”.
Signatories say Tokyo must face up to its responsibility for the sexual enslavement of thousands of women, an issue at the heart of the bitter enmity between Japan and South Korea, from where most of the women came.
“We emphasize resolution of the comfort women issue this time, as the relationship between Japan and South Korea has been strained,” said one of the organisers Haruki Wada, historian and professor emeritus of Tokyo University, using Japan’s preferred euphemism.
“We hope Prime Minister Abe will reflect our voices in his statement,” Wada told AFP.
Abe’s predecessors offered explicit apologies for colonial rule and aggression on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the war’s end, but he has hinted he is unlikely to repeat that — saying instead he wants to issue a “forward-looking” statement.
That sentiment has caused disquiet among Japanese liberals and anger in Beijing and Seoul, which insist Tokyo has not made amends.
Japan offered an apology to former sex slaves in 1993 — the words of which remain government policy — but campaigners accuse Abe of playing down any official role by the country or its military.
“A renewed effort is called for from the government of Japan” in taking steps “towards the 50 or so surviving victims”, the letter said.
The latest open letter comes after a similar one last month signed by several hundred academics. Weeks later, sixteen Japanese academic societies — including the Historical Science Society of Japan — issued a statement echoing the letter.
Mainstream historians say around 200,000 women, mostly from Korea but also from other Asian nations, were systematically raped by Japan’s imperial forces in military brothels.
Japanese conservatives, however, say no official documents prove government involvement in the system. They say the women were common prostitutes engaged in a commercial exchange.
They have also argued that memories of the survivors cannot be trusted and are highly politicised in an issue that serves as one of the main geopolitical fault lines running through East Asia.
Abe has said he stands by previous pronouncements, but questions the need for Japan repeatedly to apologize for events more than seven decades ago.