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But oddly, neither Abe nor any of his ministers or spokespeople has ever been heard to echo the key words of the Kono Declaration.

Instead, when challenged on the question of state responsibility for the ‘comfort women’ issue, they repeatedly respond with a formula developed during the first Abe administration of 2006–2007: ‘in the documents discovered by the Japanese government, none confirmed the forcible taking away of comfort women’. It treats official Japanese government and military documents (the most incriminating of which were deliberately burnt in the closing days of the war) as the only reliable source of information on the topic.

Pressed on the comfort women issue, he replied ‘in the documents discovered by the Japanese government, none confirmed the forcible taking away of comfort women’.

He added that the notion that comfort women had been forcibly recruited was a misconception based on fabricated testimony by a former Japanese labour recruiter named Yoshida Seiji, and that this misinformation had been disseminated by the liberal newspaper , which later retracted the claims. The Yoshida testimony (which was reported in the early 1990s by almost all the Japanese mainstream media, not just ) has been known to be unreliable for more than a decade.

By implication, this formula says to the survivors that their testimony is at best unreliable evidence and at worst lies.

So the key question about the 28 December deal was this: when Foreign Minister Kishida referred to ‘an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time’, was he speaking about the involvement of the military in recruiting, transporting and holding women against their will?If not, it starts to look uncomfortably like a move that was motivated less by a desire to bring justice and redress to the victims than to buy their silence.Foreign Ministry official Sugiyama’s response to the CEDAW committee on 16 February made the answer to these questions disturbingly plain.The Japanese government also promised to ‘face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history’.If the Abe administration has indeed ‘inherited’ the Kono Declaration, one would assume that Abe’s December ‘sincere apologies and remorse’ were apologising for the historical fact that many ‘comfort women’ were recruited and held against their will, and a reaffirmation of Japan’s determination to take the lessons of history to heart.Now we need an answer to the follow-up question: which history are they not denying?

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