TOKYO — Japan has acknowledged that it conducted only a limited investigation before claiming there was no official evidence that its imperial troops coerced Asian women into sexual slavery before and during World War II.
A parliamentary statement signed Tuesday by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged the government had a set of documents produced by a postwar international military tribunal containing testimony by Japanese soldiers about abducting Chinese women as sex slaves. That evidence apparently was not included in Japan’s only investigation of the issue, from 1991-1993.
Tuesday’s parliamentary statement also said documents showing forcible sex slavery may still exist. The statement did not say whether the government plans to consider the documents as evidence showing that troops had coerced women into sexual slavery.
Over the past two days, top officials of Abe’s conservative government have appeared to soften their stance on Japan’s past apologies to neighboring countries for wartime atrocities committed by the Imperial Army, saying Japan does not plan to revise them.
The backtracking appears intended to allay criticisms of Abe’s earlier vows to revise the apologies, including an acknowledgment of sexual slavery during the war, and calm tensions with South Korea and China. The US government also has raised concerns about Abe’s nationalist agenda.
Abe has acknowledged so-called comfort women existed but denied they were coerced into prostitution, citing a lack of official evidence. He also has repeatedly vowed to reassess apologies by past Japanese administrations.
The parliamentary statement was in response to an official inquiry last month to the upper house of Parliament by opposition lawmaker Tomoko Kami, who said the government’s investigation into sex slavery was ‘‘insufficient’’ and documents it claimed to have collected were incomplete.
Kami, of the Japan Communist Party, also asked whether the government had ever updated its archives to reflect more recent findings than the earlier investigation. The answer was no.
The parliamentary statement described the 1993 findings as ‘‘the result of an all-out and sincere investigation’’ that brought ‘‘closure.’’ But it said the government is open to updates if new findings are valid.
Meanwhile, chief Cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday that Japan recognizes the harm it caused during its invasion and occupation of much of Asia, and that it has repeatedly and clearly stated that position.
‘‘The Abe government has expressed sincere condolences to all victims of the war, in and out of the country, and there is no change in that,’’ Suga said in response to a question about a comment by South Korea’s president, Park Geun-hye, published in the Washington Post this week, asserting that Japan should correct its view of its wartime history.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida echoed Suga’s remarks.
‘‘The Japanese government has accepted the facts of history in a spirit of humility, expressed once again our feelings of deep remorse and our heartfelt apology, and expressed our feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘And Prime Minister Abe shares the same view.’’
China and South Korea have reacted harshly to recent nationalistic events and remarks, including visits by several Japanese government ministers and nearly 170 lawmakers to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, which memorializes 2.3 million war dead, including 14 wartime leaders convicted of war crimes. Rancor over territorial disputes has further strained relations between Japan and its neighbors.
Only in the past two decades has Japan acknowledged some of its past brutalities, including medical atrocities and use of poison gas.