Japanese Lawmaker Criticized Over Comfort Women Remarks

David Lee, Jan. 14, 2016, 8:29 a.m.

South Korea criticized a senior Japanese politician Thursday for maligning "comfort women," calling him shameless in the face of history. Sakurada Yoshitaka, a six-term lawmaker for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, claimed the Korean and other countries' women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan's military during World War II were "professional prostitutes," according to local media. He was speaking at a party meeting in Tokyo, less than three weeks after South Korea and Japan announced a historic deal on the issue.

In a verbal statement, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida admitted that its military was responsible for the sexual slavery. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also offered an apology. Japan vowed to provide 1 billion yen ($8.5 million) from its national budget to help 46 surviving Korean victims. Still, a majority of Koreans have doubts about the Abe administration's sincerity behind the agreement. They point out that actions speak louder than words. The South Korean government said it feels no need to respond to such "reckless remarks by a lawmaker who is shameless in front of history."

It's the international community's common view that Japan's atrocity on the comfort women was "wartime sexual violence" against women forcibly taken amid the expansion of Japan's imperialism, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a press briefing. What's important now is to create a mood and circumstances to faithfully implement the Dec. 28 accord without hurting the minds of the victims any more, he added. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also told reporters that his government would not comment on personal remarks by a politician.

Yoshitaka also drew criticism from his colleagues in the Diet. "I can't believe (that he made such comments)," said Fukushiro Nukaga, chairman of the Korea-Japan Parliamentarians Union. "I would like (him) to think about what's important at a time when warm wind has begun to blow between Japan and South Korea." In the face of strong backlash, Yoshitaka withdrew his controversial remark. “I think there was some misunderstanding," he was quoted as saying to Kyodo News Agency. "I want to sincerely apologize to those who were disheartened by (my remark).

On Wednesday, President Park Geun-hye openly warned Japanese politicians and media not to undermine the deal. "It is very difficult to convince the public if there are any more remarks that may scar the victims," she said in her New Year press conference. A Japanese pundit, Haruki Wada, said Japan needs to do more to show the seriousness of its latest apology, given criticism in South Korea of the bilateral agreement. He suggested the Japanese ambassador to Seoul meet with the Korean comfort women as an envoy to offer an apology directly, speaking to Japan's Kyodo News Service.

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