China condemned comments by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto that Asian women who were forced to work as prostitutes for the Japanese Army during World War II were necessary to accommodate soldiers facing battle.
“We are shocked and strongly infuriated by the Japanese politician’s remarks,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters today in Beijing. “How it deals with its past will decide how Japan approaches its future.”
Hashimoto yesterday told reporters that Japan wasn’t the only country that set up brothels for its troops and such a system “was necessary” to enforce military discipline.
“For those who were forced into brothels against their will, that is a tragedy of war,” he said. “But as of this point, there is no proof that the armed forces or the government themselves kidnapped women.”
Hashimoto’s comments come as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe copes with frayed ties with South Korea and China over territorial disputes that partially derive from Japan’s occupation of Asia that ended in 1945. Abe today in parliament reiterated that Japan “inflicted great suffering” on Asian countries during the war.
The Osaka mayor heads the Japan Restoration Party, which after forming last year won 54 seats in the 480-seat lower house of parliament. Hashimoto, 43, runs the party with former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, a longtime China critic who has called for Japan to become a nuclear power and advocates re-writing the country’s pacifist constitution.
As many as 200,000 women, mostly from China and Korea, were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese army. Japan apologized in 1993 and set up a compensation fund that some victims rejected because it was funded through private contributions. Abe has questioned whether the so-called “comfort women” were forced into prostitution.
While declining to comment on Hashimoto’s remarks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga today said, “the stance of the government on the comfort women issue is clear. They suffered unspeakably painful experiences.”
South Korea has called on the Japanese government to officially compensate women who worked in the brothels. Several survivors and their supporters installed a bronze statue of a young girl in traditional Korean dress in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul in protest in December 2011.