BEIJING — Newly installed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was quoted Monday saying that he would revisit a 1995 apology made by his nation’s government for suffering caused in World War II.
Although other Japanese officials have suggested retracting apologies for wartime horrors, the words coming from Abe himself are bound to inflame anti-Japanese sentiment in China and the Korean peninsula and put the new government off to a bad start with its neighbors.
In the interview published Monday with the conservative Sankei newspaper, Abe noted that the 1995 statement had come from Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama of a socialist party.
“I want to issue a forward-looking statement that is appropriate for the 21st century,” he said.
Abe became prime minister last Wednesday following the landslide election victory of his Liberal Democratic Party. A leading hawk in Japan who served an earlier term as prime minister, Abe is viewed with hostility in China and South Korea because of his unrepentant attitude about World War II.
In particular, he has denied that the “comfort women” who serviced Japanese troops during the war were forced into sexual servitude. That is a most sensitive issue in South Korea, where women now in their 80s and 90s regularly protest outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul over the lack of a proper apology and restitution.
“What’s important for us is not money, but to restore the dignity of the comfort women whose womanhood and humanity were destroyed by Japan’s acts,” read an editorial Monday in South Korea’s JoongAng Daily newspaper.
South Korea elected its first woman president, Park Geun-hye, on Dec. 19, and she had been cool to receiving an envoy from Abe in part because of concern over the comfort women issue.
In recent days, other Japanese officials have suggested backtracking on earlier apologies. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government might revise another apology, issued in 1993, that specifically addressed comfort women. Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura, a conservative, has said he wants to dramatically overhaul the way history is taught in Japanese schools to make it less self-deprecating.
“I am not saying that we need to go back to prewar [nationalism], but we need to teach our children the more than 2,000-year history of Japan’s wonderful traditions and culture,” he said in an interview published in the Japan Times.