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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 10:13 GMT
China raps Japan over sex slaves
Anti-Japan protest in Seoul, South Korea, on 4 March 2007
Mr Abe's comments have already drawn protests from South Korea
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing says Japan should face up to history and take responsibility for its army's use of sex slaves during World War II.

He was speaking after Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe caused controversy last week by questioning whether women were "coerced" into sexual slavery.

Mr Abe has said Japan will not go beyond a 1993 apology on the issue.

Many historians say Japan compelled up to 200,000 women, mostly Chinese and Korean, to become sex slaves.

But some Japanese scholars deny that force was used to round up the women, blaming private contractors for any abuses.

US Congress debate

Mr Li told a press conference in Beijing that the treatment of so-called comfort women "is one of the serious crimes committed by the Japanese militarists in World War II".

"This is a historical fact," he stressed.

It was not as though military police broke into peoples' homes and took them away like kidnappers
Japanese PM Shinzo Abe

"I believe the Japanese government should face up to this part of history, take responsibility, seriously view and properly handle this issue," he added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon has already described Mr Abe's remarks as "not helpful".

The US House of Representatives is currently considering a non-binding resolution calling on Tokyo to "formally acknowledge, apologise and accept historical responsibility" for the treatment of the women.

The draft text was debated last week, and three former comfort women gave evidence, describing the rape and torture they endured at the hands of the Japanese soldiers.

Mr Abe last week appeared to side with revisionists when he said there was "no evidence to prove there was coercion".

Li Zhaoxing gives press conference on 6 March 2007
Li Zhaoxing: The treatment of comfort women was a serious crime

He commented again on the issue on Monday, saying that while there was no evidence of coercion in the strict sense, there may be some evidence of independent brokers procuring women by force.

But "it was not as though military police broke into peoples' homes and took them away like kidnappers," he said.

He also indicated that Japan would not issue another apology on the issue, even if Washington asked for one.

Threatened rapprochement

Mr Abe said he stood by a 1993 Japanese government apology, which acknowledged that the military set up and ran brothels for its troops during the war.

Many former comfort women are still seeking compensation from the Japanese government for their experiences.

Tokyo did set up a compensation fund in 1995, but it relies on private donations rather than government money.

The issue of the comfort women could harm a recent rapprochement between Japan and its Asian neighbours, China and South Korea.

Relations have been tense in recent years, in part because of disagreements over Japan's wartime past, but since taking office late last year Mr Abe has sought to improve ties.

Japan refuses sex slave apology
05 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Sex slave denial angers S Korea
03 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Abe questions sex slave 'coercion'
02 Mar 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan anger at US sex slave bill
19 Feb 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan WWII sex slave redress call
12 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Japan to end WWII sex slave fund
24 Jan 05 |  Asia-Pacific


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