Japan's minister, Fumio Kishida
Japan’s minister, Fumio Kishida

The Asian Women’s Fund, set up in the year of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, represented Japan’s national effort to compensate former “comfort women” for their sufferings during the war. These women were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers at “comfort stations” established with the involvement of Japanese military forces.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has suddenly deleted from its website a document calling for contributions to the fund.

The document contained a passage saying, “many women, including teenage girls, were compelled to serve as ‘comfort women’ for the military.”

The ministry took the step apparently because this passage was criticized at a Lower House Budget Committee session for indicating that the women were taken by force.

The fund was created in line with the 1993 Kono statement, issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono.

The Japanese government’s official position on this matter has been that the comfort women issue has long been legally settled. Under such a situation, the fund’s activities provided practical support for Japan’s efforts for reconciliation with former comfort women.

The main features of this project were the Japanese prime minister’s “letter of apology” to former comfort women, payments of compensation to victims from the fund and government-financed aid for their health-care costs.

Although the fund was dissolved seven years ago, the Foreign Ministry kept the document, which called for contributions to the fund, on its website apparently because it viewed all these efforts as meaningful.

In explaining his ministry’s move to remove the document, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said it was just a reorganization of the website, which included documents drafted by the government and those that were not.

But the fact is that the government has endorsed the content of the fund’s related documents. More importantly, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe himself has clearly ruled out a revision of the Kono statement, which laid the foundation for the fund.

Why, then, did the ministry have to delete the document? The deletion could be seen by the international community as another sign of the Abe administration’s backward movement on historical recognition.

This is a serious concern now because a close Abe aide has suggested that the Kono statement should be made irrelevant by a new statement next year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.

What other countries think about Japan is not all that matters, of course. This is an issue that raises some serious questions about how Japanese face up to the nation’s past.

After the fund was dissolved, a group of people, including former executives of the fund, opened a website titled “Digital Museum: The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women’s Fund (http://awf.or.jp).” Facts and records about the fund have also been compiled into a book.

The fund attracted about 600 million yen ($5.6 million) in donations. The digital museum shows the messages of some donors. One said, “I was late in paying the money (into the account) because I had been hospitalized.” Another said, “I can only give a small sum.” The site also offers some moving tales, such as a story about a former comfort woman who broke into tears as she read the “letter of apology.”

The document calling for donations to the fund served as the starting point for exchanges of the heart.

The Foreign Ministry should put the document back on its website if it says that its views on the issue remain unchanged.