Tokyo, Mar 5: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe today said Japan will not apologise for forcing women to act as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in World War 2 even if a US House of Representatives resolution demanding an apology is adopted.
But Abe said he stood by a 1993 Japanese government apology that acknowledged that the military played a role in setting up and managing wartime brothels and that coercion was used.
''I have to say that even if the resolution passes, that doesn't mean we will apologise,'' Abe told a parliamentary panel, reiterating the government stance that the US resolution contains factual errors.
Abe has said since becoming prime minister last September that he stands by the 1993 apology, disappointing many of his conservative supporters who shared his past criticism of the statement.
But last week, Abe sparked a fierce reaction from South Korea when he appeared to question the degree to which physical coercion was involved in recruiting the women for the brothels.
''There is no evidence to back up that there was coercion as defined initially,'' he told reporters last Thursday, apparently referring to accusations that the Imperial Army had kidnapped women and put them in brothels to serve soldiers.
On Saturday, South Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement saying Abe's denial of coercion was regrettable and cast doubt on the sincerity of Japan's past apology.
House of Representatives member Michael Honda, a California Democrat, has introduced a non-binding resolution calling on the Japanese government to ''formally and unambiguously apologise for and acknowledge the tragedy that comfort women endured at the hands of its Imperial Army during World War Two''.
''Comfort women'' is a Japanese euphemism for the estimated 200,000 mostly Asian women forced to provide sex for Japan's soldiers at battle-zone brothels during the war.
Honda, one of a handful of US lawmakers of Japanese descent, has said he is alarmed at efforts by some conservatives in Japan to withdraw or revise the government's earlier admission of a state role in the brothel system.