Japan Prime Minister Gives Speech at Stanford Amid Protests Over Country's Use of “Comfort Women” During WWII

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech at Stanford University Thursday amid demands by Korean-Americans and others that he apologize for the use of sex slaves by Japan's military during World War II.

Abe's speech focused on innovation and partnerships between his country and Silicon Valley, which was followed by answering submitted questions, according to Stanford spokesman Brad Hayward.

"I want the best, brightest Japanese talent with superb technology and high motivation to dive themselves into Silicon Valley," Abe said. "I also want Japan's middle-size companies to sail into the rough waves in the Silicon Valley."

The prime minister, who served in the post from 2006 to 2007 and then returned to it in 2012, gave the speech in Japanese with a simultaneous translation into English through headsets provided to the audience, university officials said.

Hayward said the university expects about 550 people to attend and Stanford will provide a level of security that it does for any visit by a head of state.

The planned 30-minute program began at 2:15 p.m. inside Bing Concert Hall on the campus, university officials said.

Abe, who on Wednesday became the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of the U.S Congress in Washington, told Congress that his country "brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries" but he did not directly address the controversy over "comfort women," mostly Asian females forced into to sexual activity by the Japanese military in the 1940s.

In the Bay Area, a number of Korean, Chinese and other organizations staged protests at Bing Concert Hall. Another demonstration was held at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco Thursday night for what organizers said is the failure of Abe to acknowledge Japan's responsibility for the comfort women.

Angela Lee, a San Francisco resident and president of the Federation of Korean Associations, USA, criticized Abe for "not saying anything" about the comfort women.

"It's been a long time," Lee said. "He has to apologize. It's history, right? He does not agree and I don't know why."

Lee said about 50 to 80 of the former comfort women are still alive and could benefit from an admission of guilt from Japan.

Thomas Kim, president of the Korean American Community Center of San Francisco & Bay Area, said there is "abundant evidence" of the existence of comfort women and Abe and Japan are "trying to cover up historical records."

Japan should apologize for what it did to the women the way that Germany has apologized for victimizing many people during the Second World War, Kim said.

If Japan does not admit its culpability, "the problem will be accelerated in the next generation" because young Japanese will be even less informed and care less about what happened, he said.

Hayward directed questions about the views of any protesters on the campus Thursday to the Japanese consulate.

After speaking at Stanford, Abe met with California Gov. Jerry Brown at the Fairmont Hotel during a reception. The pair talked publicly about many items, including high-speed rail.

The prime minister earlier in the day also met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

NBC Bay Area's Michelle Roberts and Cheryl Hurd contributed to this report.

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