Published: 24 May 2013 at 12.49
Two South Korean women forcibly drafted into Japanese military brothels during World War II have cancelled a meeting with a Japanese mayor who sparked outrage by calling them a wartime necessity.
Park Chung Ja (C), leader of a supporting group for Korean ‘comfort women,’ forcibly drafted into Japanese military brothels during World War II, speaks to media after filing a protest letter against Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, at the city hall in Osaka, western Japan, on May 24, 2013.
Outspoken Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto and two former “comfort women” were to meet on Friday, but the elderly women changed their minds over fears of becoming political pawns in a long-running diplomatic dispute that has stoked tensions between Tokyo and Seoul.
Supporters of the women, both in their eighties, said there was also concern that Hashimoto would not retract his controversial comments.
“He has to retract his past comments if he wants to apologise and make us believe it is genuine,” supporter Pang Chung-Ja told a hastily arranged press briefing in Osaka.
She added there were fears the pair could be “politically exploited”.
Earlier this month the mayor said wartime prostitutes served a “necessary” role keeping battle-stressed soldiers in line, setting off a volley of criticism from countries under Japan’s rule in the 1930s and 1940s as well as from the US.
He later pledged to apologise to the women for his comments, while insisting Japan’s soldiers were not unique in brutalising women.
Sex slavery is a particularly sensitive issue in Korea, a former Japanese colony whose people made up many of the up to 200,000 “comfort women” forcibly drafted into brothels for the Japanese military during World War II.
In the days since his original comments, Hashimoto, the co-leader of the national Japan Restoration Party, has continued to fan the flames with new pronouncements, many of which have been on Twitter where he has over one million followers.
Hashimoto said in a comment reported Tuesday that the South Korean military used women for sex during the Vietnam War, inviting a sharp response from Seoul.
“Japan was bad,” he told a party meeting on Monday, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported. “It is true that we used women to solve the problem of sex on the battlefield.
“Having said that, America, Britain, Germany and France, and even the South Korean military in Vietnam after WWII, they all used women to address the issue.”
Meanwhile, Tokyo on Thursday accused a South Korean newspaper of “dishonourable” behaviour for publishing an editorial that said the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were “divine punishment” for Tokyo’s wartime aggression.
The editorial in the Korean and English versions of the Joongang Ilbo daily on Monday said the 1945 nuclear bombs dropped by US planes, which together killed more than 200,000 people, were justified, saying: “God often borrows the hand of a human to punish the evil deeds of men.”