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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 March 2007, 10:58 GMT
Viewpoints: Abe sex slave row
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said there is no evidence that women were forced to become sex slaves, or so-called comfort women, by the Japanese army during World War II.

The BBC News website spoke to people across East Asia about Mr Abe's remarks and their impact on Japan's relations with its neighbours.


Gina Lee
Gina Lee: Abe is worse than Koizumi

Abe's remarks are inevitably going to have a huge impact on Japan's relations with its neighbours.

The memories of the bitter colonisation are still fresh in Korean people's minds. There are still people, including my grandparents, who lived through it.

Hearing stories about that period has had a huge impact on young people's views on Japan. Although many young Koreans have an interest in Japanese culture and language, it is impossible to forget what happened only two, three generations ago.

I visited the House of Sharing - a government-sponsored establishment for former comfort women and I translated the testimony of one of the women living there. I have been unable to forget this experience.

Japan's failure to acknowledge its war crimes is a hurdle in establishing good relations with its neighbours
She told us how she was sold by her step-father, how brutally she was beaten and raped by soldiers and how she was later rejected by society, including her own family.

She then answered a question from a Japanese student who asked what the young Japanese generation could do to put her mind at peace.

Her answer was: 'A formal apology and compensation from the Japanese government.'

This is what former comfort women demonstrate for every Wednesday in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

Japan's failure to acknowledge its war crimes is a huge hurdle in establishing good relations with its neighbours.

I had high hopes for Abe when he took office. I was hoping that he can undo the damage done by Koizumi's frequent visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.

Now I firmly believe that he is worse than Koizumi. It is hypocritical of him to claim he wants to improve Japan's ties with its neighbours and then blatantly deny what happened less than a century ago.


Yang Zhou
Yang Zhou: Japan will have no friend in the region

Mr Abe's remarks on comfort women will have been received with varying degree of outrage in China.

You will almost certainly get uniform responses saying that the Japanese government's constant denial of their country's historical crimes, like the using of comfort women and the Nanjing massacre, is disgusting.

To most Chinese these are unquestionable facts: they were taught at school and were reinforced through media over and over again.

The majority of China's repressed teenagers, who are desperately trying to find a target for their anger and frustration, would not miss this chance. You can well expect a storm of verbal assaults on Abe from teenagers and students on major Chinese online forums.

They cannot openly attack the Communist regime because that would only get them into trouble.

Therefore, the aggressive diplomatic stance taken by Japan, which most young Chinese regard as an economically developed, yet annoying neighbour, would be seen as a socially and politically acceptable target for their anger.

What Abe achieved was to put Japan in a disadvantageous diplomatic position
On the other hand, the working population will have little time to worry about what Mr Abe has got to say because they have enough problems of their own.

It must have been very clear to Mr Abe that the issue of comfort women is an extremely sensitive one in neighbouring countries who were once victims of Japan's militaristic ambitions.

He must have made his own political calculations before making that remark. He wanted to send a clear message that the new government's foreign policy is in line with that of the previous one.

What he achieved though was to put Japan in a disadvantageous diplomatic position. By continuously denying and downplaying historical crimes, Japan will become a common enemy without a friend in this region.


South Korean former comfort women, or sex slaves forced to serve for Japanese imperial army during World War II shout slogans during a weekly anti-Japan rally, 19/01/2005
The issue is an emotive one for the East Asian region
For a Japanese prime minister to openly and seriously suggest that women were not coerced to become sex slaves is incredibly stupid.

I don't think any of Shinzo Abe's predecessors have put it quite this way.

I think that he is no different from Junichiro Koizumi or any other Japanese conservative politician.

People in Taiwan have mixed feelings for Japan. At the beginning of the 20th century Taiwan was part of the Japanese empire.

The Japanese did lots of industrial construction, while at the same time they treated Taiwanese people as second-class human beings.

But when the Kuomintang (KMT) came along, the order established by the Japanese fell apart. The KMTs chaotic ways were in a stark contrast to how the Japanese ruled during the colonial days.

I think this is one important reason why so many elderly people have good memories of Japan. And Japan's domination of our island wasn't as bloody as in other parts of the Japanese empire.

As for the atrocities the Japanese committed during World War II, I feel that the government's attitude moves more and more towards denial.

They think that they are a glorious race. So it would be very embarrassing for them acknowledge the truth and tell their young generation about their past deeds.

They probably think that time will erase the humiliation and memories of what they've done.

I think China will give Japan a hard time over this. Japanese who have businesses in China may well find themselves on the receiving end.

The more powerful China and Korea become, the more justice they will demand from the Japanese government. This is the epitome of international political reality.


Ben Mundin
Japan's refusal to acknowledge war-time crimes is predictable. According to their version of history, Japan never committed atrocities during the war.

What is emphasised in their history books are the heroics of their soldiers during World War II.

Until their historical books are completely rewritten, the Japanese people will never understand why their neighbours feel so strongly about this subject.

Mr Abe's remarks are typical of a politician who wants to retain his lofty position in the Japanese political world.

Maybe he is under pressure from the conservatives to make that kind of statement. He wouldn't want to antagonise them, as his position might become insecure.

There isn't much interest in the Philippines about what Mr Abe has to say on the issue of comfort women. The majority of people are much more interested in the forthcoming elections.

Even the Philippine's official position came out mute in the papers - it was buried inside the pages.

The Philippines reaction may not be able to create a significant threat to Mr Abe's position in view of our dependence on Japanese aid.

However, what Mr Abe does not realise is that other countries offended by his remarks, like China and South Korea, carry more political and economic weight to make decisions that could affect Japan.

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