Japan's prime minister has recently sparked new anger in neighboring countries by denying the Japanese military forced Asian women to serve as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now says there will be a "new" investigation of the issue. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, where the announcement was received with contempt.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo Thursday his government would take the lead in what he describes as a "new investigation" into Japanese military brothels during World War II.
Victims' groups say Japan forced about 200,000 Asian women, mainly in Korea and China, to serve in the brothels as so-called "comfort women." Many of those women are still alive, and have testified repeatedly and vividly about their treatment.
In 1993, Japan's then-chief cabinet secretary, Yohei Kono, acknowledged that coercion was probably used in recruiting the comfort women, and he made an apology.
No apology has ever officially been made by the Japanese government, however. And Mr. Abe has recently insisted there is "no historical evidence" the women were forced to become prostitutes.
On Monday, he also dismissed a pending U.S. congressional resolution calling for such an apology over the comfort women. Whether or not the resolution passes, he told Japanese lawmakers, Tokyo will not apologize.
Kang Joo-hye is the director of one of South Korea's main advocacy groups for the comfort women, most of whom are now in their 70s and 80s. She does not believe the Japanese prime minister intends to carry out a legitimate investigation.
She says her group has called on Japan for years to conduct investigations in order to supplement the 1993 Kono apology. However, she says she believes Mr. Abe's intention is to render the Kono statement illegitimate.
South Korea responded to Mr. Abe's comments last week with a statement of "strong regret." North Korea's official media issued a statement Wednesday describing Japan's use of comfort women as "the worst flesh traffic of the 20th century."
Prime Minister Abe aligns himself with conservative sectors of Japan's political spectrum, which believe Japan has nothing to apologize for over World War II. Recently, his popularity ratings have declined, and his party faces elections in Japan's upper house of parliament four months from now.