Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio warned Tuesday that China is exploiting a rift between Japan and South Korea over World War II “comfort women,” and he urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to more fully address his country’s wartime past in his remarks to Congress.

While Japan has expressed regret for atrocities during the war, “obviously something is missing” because it hasn’t gone far enough for survivors, Rubio said in an appearance in downtown Los Angeles.

Rubio credited Japanese society with being “extraordinarily open” about the past and said “it’s a much different country than it was then.”

But “for the interest of geopolitical stability, not to mention for historical accuracy, I do think it’s important for the government of Japan to be more forward leaning in the pronouncements they’re making,” he added.

Rubio’s remarks about Japan’s wartime past to Town Hall Los Angeles, a public speakers forum, came in advance of Abe’s scheduled address to Congress on Wednesday.

The prime minister has faced demands that he use his U.S. trip this week to speak to Japan’s use of tens of thousands of sex slaves to serve Japanese troops during the war. As many as 200,000 “comfort women” from Korea, China and other countries were forced into sex slavery.

South Korea has demanded an apology.

“Beyond the human element … it’s having a significant geopolitical influence. It is a divide between Korea and Japan that the Chinese have exploited to prevent those two countries from working together on a host of other issues,” Rubio said.

His speech was the only public event on a two-day fundraising trip to California, long a font of campaign dollars for presidential candidates.

It’s unclear if California will factor in a Republican primary fight, apart from its concentration of donors. If the nomination is locked up in the campaign’s early stages, California’s June 2016 primary election could be a mere formality. But it could also become a battleground if the race is tight.

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