TOKYO (AFP) - The newly appointed head of Japan's public broadcaster NHK has stirred controversy by saying the system of forcibly drafting women into military brothels during World War II was "common in any country at war".
Mr Katsuto Momii's comment on Saturday came after popular Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto prompted global outrage last year by suggesting that the so-called "comfort women" served a "necessary" role by keeping battle-stressed soldiers in check.
Up to 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and elsewhere were forced into brothels catering to the Japanese military in territories occupied by Japan during WWII, according to many mainstream historians.
The military brothel system was "common in any country at war", Mr Momii told his first news conference as NHK chairman on Saturday.
"Can we say there were none in Germany or France? It was everywhere in Europe," he said, according to reports.
Noting that this was his personal view, Mr Momii said the comfort women issue has been "complicated because South Korea says Japan was the only country that forcibly recruited (women)".
The politically charged issue of comfort women has stoked regional tensions, with South Korea and China insisting that Japan must face up to its World War II-era sexual enslavement of women from across occupied Asia.
In a landmark 1993 statement, then chief Japanese government spokesman Yohei Kono apologised to former comfort women and acknowledged Japan's role in causing their suffering.
But in remarks in 2007 that triggered a region-wide uproar, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who also served as premier then, said there was no evidence that Japan directly forced women to work as sex slaves.
Mr Momii, 70, who previously served as a vice chairman of trading house Mitsui, is rumoured to have been Mr Abe's preferred choice as NHK chairman, Kyodo news agency said.