By Mike Lillis - 04/29/15 01:21 PM EDT
Top Asian-American Democrats are blasting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for failing to use Wednesday's Capitol Hill speech to apologize for Japan's enslavement of women during World War II.
The critical Democrats, who have pressed for years for the prime minister to confront that history head-on, minced no words in condemning the speech.
"It is shocking and shameful that Prime Minister Abe continues to evade his government's responsibility for the systematic atrocity that was perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army against the so-called 'comfort women' during World War II," Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), a Japanese-American, said afterward.
"Today's refusal to squarely face history is an insult to the spirit of the 200,000 girls and women from the Asia-Pacific who suffered during World War II," he added. "This is unacceptable."
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), the head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, echoed the disappointment, accusing Abe of ignoring "Japan’s responsibility for this particularly troubling and painful chapter."
Abe, a conservative who for years has stirred controversy over his approach to the issue of comfort women, alluded to that history Wednesday without offering an apology.
"Armed conflicts have always made women suffer the most. In our age, we must realize the kind of world where finally women are free from human rights abuses," Abe said.
"Post-war, we started out on our path bearing in mind feelings of deep remorse over the war. Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries," he added. "We must not avert our eyes from that. I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard."
The remarks did little to appease the Democrats, however, who wanted a full-throated apology for enslaving women.
Chu said she was "grateful" that Abe "acknowledged the suffering of Asians at the hands of Japanese soldiers," but denounced his decision not to go further.
"[H]ealing these wounds requires honesty and an admission of responsibility," she said.
"Shirking that responsibility and attributing it instead to the cost of war amounts to a pardon of those who made decisions to dehumanize these women and is license to future generations to use war as an excuse," Chu added. "The prime minister said that Japan’s eyes are always on the road ahead, but without responsibility and remorse, it is impossible to move forward.”