TOKYO — A top official hinted Thursday that Japan’s newly installed conservative government might seek to revise a two-decade-old official apology to women forced into sexual slavery during World War II, a move that would most likely outrage South Korea and possibly other former victims of Japanese militarism.
Speaking a day after the new Cabinet was named, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who serves as the government’s top spokesman, refused to say clearly whether the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, would uphold the 1993 apology, which was issued by the chief Cabinet secretary at the time, Yohei Kono.
But Suga said at a news conference that it would be ‘‘desirable for experts and historians to study’’ the statement, which acknowledged the Imperial Army’s involvement in forcing thousands of Asian and Dutch women to provide sex for Japanese soldiers.
Suga seemed to keep his comments intentionally vague, adding only that the matter ‘‘should not be made into a political or diplomatic issue.’’ He also said the Abe government would uphold a broader apology, issued in 1995 to observe the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, to all victims of Japan’s colonialism and aggression.
The sex slaves issue remains highly emotional in South Korea, a former Japanese colony. On Thursday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry responded to Suga’s comments by calling on Japan not to forget its militaristic past.