Abe Apologizes, Xinhua Seems Satisfied, Reuters More Skeptical

Surrounding Australian Prime Minister John Howard’s trip to Japan this weekend, Japanese PM Abe Shinzo “expressed an unfeigned apology to ‘comfort women.'” Or did was the headline that he “trie[d] damage control over WW2 sex slaves”?

If you ask the Chinese official news agency, which often serves as an outlet for the Chinese government’s scoldings of Japanese leaders for “inappropriate” statements on history, Abe really meant it. In a report offering almost no details, Xinhua writes:

TOKYO, March 11 (Xinhua) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday expressed unfeigned apology to “comfort women” who were forced by Japan’s then military government into sex slavery during World War II.

In a TV program of NHK earlier in the day, Abe also reiterated that his government will not change the policy of honoring the Kono statement.

The prime minister’s remarks were a big conversion from what he said on Thursday, when he hinted a reinvestigation of the facts unearthed in 1993 by the previous official probe which gave birth to the Kono statement in the same year. …

In what I’ve come to know as the language of Xinhua stories, my hunch is this reflects a desire among the decision-makers in Chinese media to put the “comfort women” aside. Reuters, under the more skeptical headline quoted above, has some more detail:

On Sunday, Abe repeated that the 1993 apology remained in effect. “We have stated our heartfelt apologies to the ‘comfort women’ at the time who suffered greatly and were injured in their hearts,” Abe said in an interview with NHK television. “I want to say that that sentiment has not changed at all.”

The furore precedes a visit to Tokyo in mid-April by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Abe’s trip to Washington later that month.

In a sign the Bush administration was growing concerned, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer last week advised Tokyo not to renege on the 1993 apology, known as the “Kono Statement” after the chief cabinet secretary in whose name it was issued.

“No friend of Japan would want Japan to back away from the Kono Statement,” Schieffer told Japanese reporters on Friday

The Reuters article quotes a Sofia University political science professor as saying that the U.S. headlines surrounding this story might have led the Abe team to worry about the opinions of the Japanese public. “When Asian governments criticise Japan, no one cares but when it’s reported in the New York Times, they have to react,” said the professor, Nakano Koichi. “They care about the American elite being upset.”

Let’s see what Rep. Honda has to say about this on the Hill Thursday.

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