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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan to Atone for Sex Slavery

TOKYO -- Japan will announce Wednesday a 10-year, $1 billion program to compensate indirectly women used as "sex slaves" by Japanese soldiers and other individuals who were victimized by Japan's World War II aggression, a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.


The socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama will make the announcement and his Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi will spell out the details, the official said.


Designed to launch a year-long period of self-reflection on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Japan's defeat, the announcement will mark a reversal of decades of postwar diplomatic efforts to avoid any form of responsibility for acts against individuals in Japan's war with China, which began in 1931, and World War II.


It is an outgrowth of an order that former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa issued after the 38-year rule of the Liberal Democratic Party ended last August. Hosokawa told the Foreign Ministry to develop a comprehensive package resolving all remaining issues after World War II.


The move raises all sort of problematic issues regarding nations' responsibility for past actions.


Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told Murayama: "If you start seeking compensation for things that happened 50 years ago, then what about 100 years ago, or 200 years ago? It could turn into demands for compensation from colonial powers."


But clearing up doubts about Japan's consciousness of its past is regarded by many Japanese leaders as necessary to open the door to an active foreign policy in Asia. Although Liberal Democratic governments expressed regrets for the suffering Japan caused during the war, no prime minister until Hosokawa admitted that Japan's war in Asia was "a war of aggression."


Even Hosokawa later toned down that comment to say only that Japan's war had been filled with "aggressive acts."


Since May, two cabinet ministers -- one in the government of former Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata and one in Murayama's coalition cabinet that includes Liberal Democrats -- were forced to resign after denying that Japan had committed aggression during the war.


The 1951 San Francisco peace treaty and other pacts that Japan signed with all of its wartime enemies -- except Russia and North Korea -- have settled legally the issue of reparations with each of the countries concerned.


But for individual victims of its wartime acts of aggression, "Japan has done virtually nothing, compared with Germany," its wartime ally, Igarashi, the chief cabinet secretary, told reporters last week. Demands, though, have been increasing in recent years from groups of wartime victims throughout Asia and as far away as the Netherlands and England.


A poll published by the Asahi newspaper last week found that more than 70 percent of Japanese believe their country has not paid enough compensation to Asian victims of World War II.


The package of measures Murayama will announce will touch upon issues such as repayment of wartime postal savings by Taiwan Chinese who were drafted into the Imperial Army and the repatriation to South Korea of Korean forced laborers left on Russia's Sakhalin Island after the war. Taiwan, from 1895, and Korea, from 1910, both were colonies of Japan until its defeat in 1945.


But the focal point of Wednesday's announcement was expected to be the $1 billion fund that will be used to compensate symbolically for Japan's enslavement of as many as 200,000 women who were forced to serve as prostitutes for Japanese soldiers fighting as far away as Burma. Most of the women came from Korea but large numbers also were conscripted from the Philippines.


The money is to be used to establish a foundation that will build and operate youth centers in a number of Asian countries to train young people in skills, promote exchanges and collect historical materials.


Japanese media also have reported that the government was considering a separate plan to establish a $100 million, privately financed fund from which to make direct payments to victims.


Although President Kim Young-sam said South Korea would seek no monetary compensation for them, groups of the former sex slaves -- or "comfort women," as the wartime Japanese called them -- have demanded direct payments.


A Seoul-based "Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan" already condemned the proposed youth exchange center plan as a sop for the Japan government to avoid assuming legal responsibility for the wartime acts.


Lila Pilipina, an organization of former sex slaves, demanded apologies to each of the victims in the Philippines, as well as direct monetary payments.