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Published : 2014-03-04 20:44
Updated : 2014-03-04 20:44

A senior Japanese government official touched off another wave of criticism from South Korea by suggesting that all the historical facts about Japan’s sexual enslavement of women during World War II might have been fabricated.

Yoshitaka Sakurada, senior vice minister of education, made the controversial remark at a rally of about 500 nationalists who called for the Japanese government to reevaluate the Kono statement.

“I am a person who does not like lies, fooling others or fabricating the truth,” he said. “I share the same opinion with you and I will support your effort,”

In response to Sakurada’s public comment, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said that the 55 known surviving Korean victims, the international community and history know who is lying, fooling others and fabricating the truth.

Sakurada made the comment at the rally led by former Japanese transportation minister Nariaki Nakayama, who has made a series of provocative remarks on “comfort women,” a euphemistic expression for women who were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels.

The remark by Sakurada is the latest in a string of similar statements and views expressed by nationalist Japanese politicians and other figures, most of whom deny the involvement of the Japanese government in recruiting Asian women, many of them Korean, to work in military brothels.

Led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the Japanese politicians are now trying to withdraw the 1993 Kono statement, made by former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, who publicly acknowledged Japan’s conscription of sex slaves, based on testimony from 16 Korean women.

Japan’s current Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, however, is taking issue with the validity of the statement, saying Tokyo is planning to form a team to “reverify” the victims’ testimonies.

But the nationalistic steps by Japanese figures are generating negative responses even in Japan.

On Monday, a civic group comprised of lawyers and professors called for the resignation of NHK chairman Katsuto Momii, who stirred up controversy related to the sexual enslavement of Korean women, and threatened to refuse paying the subscription fees to the public broadcaster.

The civic group members said they would stop paying the fees to NHK, according to Kyodo News reports. A representative of the group said that Momii’s comment caused them to lose faith in NHK’s coverage, which should remain politically neutral as the station is a public broadcaster.

Momii came under fire for his provocative remark at a press conference in January that wartime sex slavery was “common in any country at war.” He later took back the remark but said he continues to hold the same view on the comfort women issue.

Historians say up to 200,000 women were coerced into sexual servitude by the Japanese army at front-line brothels during World War II when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony. Of the 237 Korean women who reported themselves as former sex slaves, 55 are still alive.

By Suh Ye-seul (sys@heraldcorp.com)

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