China is outraged over remarks made by Mayor Toru Hashimoto of Osaka, Japan who said that the Japanese setting up military brothels during World War Two was “necessary.” The Japanese government is scrambling to distance itself from the comments.
Japan’s Asian neighbours have harboured deep resentment of the “atrocities” committed by Japan in their historical mistreatment of the surrounding countries during World War II. Most Asian victims of Japan’s agression during the war are very sensitive to what they see as an ongoing attempt by Japan to excuse or even justify their actions of abuses committed before and during the war.
China and South Korea especially have deep seated emotions about Japan as they caught the brunt of the agression and China has historically been target by Japan for “invasion.”
Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto is no stranger to controversy. His outspoken “populist” stye has caused public outrage before.
Hashimoto told reporters on Monday that, “Anyone can understand that the system of comfort women was necessary to provide respite for high-strung, rough and tumble crowd of men risking their lives under a storm of bullets.” He went on to add, “At the time, it was a necessary system to maintain military discipline.”
Historians have estimated that as many as 200,000 “comfort” women were forced into sexual slavery in the Imperial Japanese Army’s brothels before and during World War Two.
China and South Korea have both denounced the comments and South Korea have demanded a public apology.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a news conference, “The forced recruitment of comfort women was a serious crime of Japanese militarism at the time of World War Two. This is an affront to human dignity and a major human rights problem.
Hong Lei added, “We express shock and strong indignation toward the Japanese politicians who have made public an open challenge to human conscience and historical justice. How Japan faces up to the past will decide its future. Asian neighbors and international society are waiting to see what choice Japan will make.”
Recently the Japanese government has sought to tone down inflammatory remarks regarding their shared wartime history made by cabinet members; including the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Remarks that are in danger of cutting ties with China and South Korea.
In April tension mounted after three government officials visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine that honours fallen soldiers of war and Prime Minister Abe cast doubt on whether his government agreed with the landmark 1995 apology made by Japan for its wartime atrocities.
Mayor Hashimoto is a former lawyer and co-leader of the small Japan Restoration Party, with which Abe has eyed cooperation to push conservative policies such as revising the pacifist, post-war constitution.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has declined direct comment on Hashimoto’s remarks. What is certain is that in an area that is already under a considerable amount of stress and tension over ongoing territorial issues this remark will only heighten the separation that China and South Korea have imposed on Japan. It is doubtful whether a public apology will alleviate the situation.
By Michael Smith