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Settle dispute over WWII ‘comfort women’, Merkel tells Japan

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) review the honour guards  in Tokyo on March 9, 2015
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) review the honour guards in Tokyo on March 9, 2015 Kazuhiro Nogi, AFP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Japan to resolve festering disputes with South Korea over the country’s wartime system of sex slavery in her second foray into the sensitive subject of Japanese atrocities during World War II.


Winding up a whirlwind visit to Japan on Tuesday, Merkel said Tokyo should "go ahead with reconciliation" with South Korea over what Japan euphemistically refers to as "comfort women".

"Japan and South Korea share values," Merkel told Katsuya Okada, head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan. "It's better to resolve the... issue properly."

Despite a dearth of official records, mainstream historians say up to 200,000 women, many from Korea but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan, served Japanese soldiers in military brothels.

Most agree that these women were not willing participants and that the Imperial Japanese Army and wartime government were involved in their enslavement, tacitly or explicitly.

Right-wingers, however, say the women were common prostitutes engaged in a commercial exchange, and are fighting a vigorous rear-guard battle to alter the narrative.

‘Call things by their name’

Merkel's comments come a day after she urged Japan to learn from Germany’s example in facing up to its wartime past.

In a speech at the headquarters of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Tokyo on Monday, she said Germany's acceptance into the international community after 1945 was possible because the country had dealt with its past.

"There was the acceptance in Germany to call things by their name," she said, praising the "generous gestures by our neighbours" in re-accepting postwar Germany.

Her remarks have acquired particular resonance as Japan readies to mark the 70th anniversary of its defeat in the war.

Tokyo has long been unapologetic about atrocities committed during its ruthless occupation of vast swathes of the Far East, a stance maintained by its current conservative leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Following a summit with Abe on Monday, Merkel told a news conference that settling wartime history is "a prerequisite for reconciliation".

Comparison with Germany ‘inappropriate’

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, however, insisted that it is "inappropriate to simply compare" Japan with Germany over their post-war settlement.

"The background -- what happened to Japan and Germany during the war and what countries their neighbours are -- is different," Kishida told reporters.

Tokyo’s reluctance to examine past crimes, coupled with the regular celebration of wartime generals, has infuriated Japan’s former foes.

Relations between Japan and its wartime victims, chief among them China and South Korea, are at a low point, with Beijing and Seoul both demanding Tokyo do more to atone for its past.

But Japanese nationalists say Tokyo has apologised enough, and that the constant references to WWII are being used by governments in China and South Korea to direct popular anger elsewhere.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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