This whole brouhaha may be a tempest in a teacup for Americans, preoccupied with their liddle war out in the Middle East, but it's long been a sore point with us Southeast Asians.
The exact statement PM Abe makes goes something like this: "There was no evidence to prove there was coercion as initially suggested. That largely changes what constitutes the definition of coercion, and we have to take it from there"
Personally, I'd like to know what he believes constitutes 'evidence'--the personal testimony of Korean, Chinese and Filipino (not to mention the Dutch) women apparently don't count; they may be lying, to take advantage of Japan's obviously overtaxed sense of guilt about the war that the country helped start.
This argument between Abe and Democratic Party lawmaker Toshio Ogawa is interesting. Some highlights from the debate:
Abe: No one would voluntarily apply to be a comfort woman. In some cases, private agents forced the women, so in this broad context, forced coercion existed. However, Japanese government officials did not raid civilians¡¯ homes to ¡°kidnap¡± women. The testimony that the Japanese military hunted women as sex slaves is completely fabricated. No other evidence supports such testimony.
As the article notes, this flatly contradicts the statement of former Cabinet secretary Yohei Kono in 1993, that the military authorities had been involved. This plus additional unearthed evidence suggests that Prime Minister Abe is either a barefaced liar or in a state of denial as grandiose as Mel Gibson's.
Abe adds in Japan's defense: "Japan¡¯s acts for 60 years following the end of World War II have been highly appreciated."
Sure it's been appreciated. Can we all please say "hush money" out loud?
To his credit, Abe this Sunday still affirmed the 1993 Kono statement. Which leads to the question: does he think they were coerced, or doesn't he? Maybe he's not lying or in a state of delusion; maybe he's just confused. He definitely didn't win a lot of friends in the international scene during the past few days.
The earlier Inquirer article's last sentence, incidentally, is heartbreaking:
More than 80 Filipino women, now mostly in their 80s, have accepted money from the fund out of poverty, but all still seek legislated compensation from the Japanese government.
These women were repeatedly raped, have repeatedly testified in public to their humiliation, and have to take consolation money anyway--money which comes from private funds, allowing the Japanese government to keep its hands squeaky clean.
Frankly, I hope they manage to sue Abe's ass off.
EDIT: Here's a Filipino website that disseminates information on and campaigns for the surviving Filipina Comfort Women of World War 2.