Japan PM Shinzo Abe's backtrack over 'comfort women' deal: China Daily

Mr Shinzo Abe answers questions during his New Year press conference at his official residence in Tokyo.
Mr Shinzo Abe answers questions during his New Year press conference at his official residence in Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Jan 20, China Daily questions the Japanese premier's sincerity in reaching an agreement with South Korea over the 'comfort women' issue.

All looked well on Dec 28.

On that day, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed the "most sincere apologies and remorse" to Korean women forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops during World War II.

Under a "final consensus" between the governments of Japan and the Republic of Korea, the former committed to a US$8.3-million (S$12 million) fund to help the surviving "comfort women" in the ROK (South Korea).

And both agreed to "refrain from criticising and blaming each other in the international society, including the United Nations".

Amid loud applause from well wishers, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon included, many believed the long-standing row would thus be settled.

Until Monday, when Mr Abe told the Upper House of the Japanese Diet that official records from neither the military nor the government prove "comfort women" were forced into sexual service, and that the agreement with the ROK does not constitute Japanese recognition of the sex slavery regime as a war crime.

To many, that is shameless backtracking.

It is shameless because Japan's refusal to genuinely repent has never changed.

The Abe administration wanted the deal not because it wanted to come to terms with the past, or Japan's responsibilities for that sin, but because it wanted the ROK's cooperation in addressing its regional concerns.

Which was why the financial commitment was made neither in the name of compensation nor in the spirit of atonement, but instead offered more like a charitable contribution.

Mr Abe and his cohorts are more interested in buying ROK silence and removing the "comfort women" statue outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul rather than remedying what is considered to be one of the worst injustices of WWII.

The "new situation" Mr Abe touted and the "new era" Ms Park anticipated for bilateral ties in 2016, therefore, were inherently divergent.

* China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.