Tokyo: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe accused overseas media on 9 March of inaccurately reporting his views on Japan’s wartime army brothels and fuelling an outcry.
“Unfortunately, our remarks on this issue have not necessarily been carried accurately and calmly but they have been carried in a way quite different from what was really said,” Abe said in parliament.
But asked if he would counter-argue how the foreign media reported on the issue, Abe said he would refrain because “it would trigger unproductive arguing”.
The premier, known for his conservative views on history, caused an uproar last week when he said there was no hard evidence that so-called “comfort women” were forced by the military into sexual slavery “in the strict sense of coercion”.
He later elaborated that he was talking about physical coercion such as kidnappings of women by soldiers to put them into brothels.
Abe’s comments came at a time when a US congressional committee was preparing to pass a bill demanding Japan’s apology for its treatment of the comfort women.
The New York Times criticised Japan in an editorial on 6 March for its “effort to contort the truth” on the issue.
Abe said, “We have already been offering sincere sympathy and apologising to (comfort women) for the fact that they were put in an extremely harsh situation and went through hardships.”
He has repeatedly pledged to stand by a 1993 government statement which apologised to sex slaves and said the imperial army was involved “directly or indirectly” in the recruitment and management of the brothels.
But the premier said his government would provide data to help a group of conservative lawmakers reinvestigate facts on comfort women, a move which could lead the statement to be watered down.
A major Japanese daily, the Yomiuri Shimbun, reported that the US bill was likely to pass before a two-week recess in April and sent to the full House of Representatives unless the Japanese parliament issued an apology first.
Thirty-six lawmakers of the 50-member House Committee on Foreign Affairs have shown support for the resolution, the daily quoted senior member Eni Faleomavaega as saying.
The bill gained momentum after the Democrats took control of Congress in January from President George W. Bush’s Republicans.
Historians say up to 200,000 young women, mostly from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, were forced to serve as sex slaves in Japanese army brothels.