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Will Abe's message help reconciliation?

August 7, 2015


EDITORIAL: Abe’s war anniversary message should promote reconciliation



A council of experts appointed to advise Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his planned statement to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II submitted its report to him on Aug. 6.

Abe will shortly issue his statement after considering the recommendations by the advisory panel. Commenting on the statement issued in 1995 by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, Abe reiterated on Aug. 6 that his message will “carry on the positions (on related issues) of successive Cabinets as a whole.” Murayama’s statement expressed remorse and apology for Japan’s colonial rule and aggression.

Abe’s statement will be meaningless if it fails to strike a resonant chord in the people to whom it is addressed. We want him to clearly express his intention to “carry on” the spirit of the Murayama statement with his own words.

“After the Manchurian Incident, Japan expanded its aggression against the continent … and caused much damage to many countries, mainly in Asia, through a reckless war,” the report states.

It also says, “Going against the dominant trend toward ethnic self-determination, (Japan) implemented colonial rule (over other Asian nations) with great severity, especially after the late 1930s.”

The report is a compilation of the opinions voiced by the experts tasked by Abe to offer advice on the statement he plans to issue.

Although it is not a draft of Abe’s statement, the report’s descriptions about the events leading to the war are largely reasonable.

After recklessly expanding its aggression, Japan surrendered by accepting the Potsdam Declaration.

Then, Japan accepted the rulings handed down by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which tried Japan’s wartime leaders, and regained its sovereignty under the San Francisco Peace Treaty, signed in 1951. Since returning to the international community, Japan has been pursuing a pacifist path based on its own soul-searching about the war under the new Constitution.

This is the outline of Japan’s history during and after the war that has become an established view both in and outside Japan, although there may be disagreements over certain details.

But Abe has exhibited a desire to change this widely accepted historical narrative, saying there is no established definition of aggression.

The report by the personal advisers to Abe, however, clearly referred to Japan’s aggression.

Admitting one’s mistake is indispensable if one is to not make the same mistake again.

The Murayama statement, which candidly admitted Japan’s national policy mistake and expressed “deep remorse” and offered a “heartfelt apology,” has been welcomed internationally and served as a foundation for Japanese diplomacy since then.

It is debatable whether Abe needs to issue a new statement in view of the existence of the Murayama document.

As he has decided to go to the trouble of issuing a new message, however, Abe should make sure that it will not cause any new misunderstanding or mistrust between Japan and its neighbors.

As the Japanese leader, Abe has the responsibility to ensure that his statement will offer a view about Japan’s past that transcends his personal feelings, represents the collective sentiment of the Japanese people and wins the support of the international community.

To do so, Abe should focus on the following objectives:

The number of people in Japan and neighboring countries who had firsthand experiences of the ravages of the war is already small and dwindling. Abe’s statement should, first and foremost, resonate with the feelings of these people.

It is also important for Abe to make it clear that his statement is intended as a message for reconciliation to heal Japan’s seriously soured relations with China and South Korea.

The entire world is closely watching Abe’s decision as to what should be the core message of his statement.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 7



Editorial: Abe should give war anniversary statement aiding reconciliation



A panel of experts discussing the content of a statement that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will issue on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has compiled a report on the issue. Based on the report, the prime minister intends to issue a statement on Aug. 14, the day before the anniversary.

The report covers four areas -- lessons that should be learned from the experiences of the 20th century, the path Japan has taken in the postwar period, the country's reconciliation with European, North American and Asian countries and a vision for the 21st century.

Of these issues, lessons that should be learned from the experiences of the 20th century are linked directly to the prime minister's historical perceptions, which form the core of his statement. The content of this section can generally be hailed as well-balanced.

The report points out that Western countries, having preceded other countries in technological innovation, went ahead with colonization in the 19th century, but that the brakes were applied on this colonization at the beginning of the 20th century.

The panel's document says that after the Manchurian Incident, Japan "expanded its aggression against the continent" despite the 1922 Nine-Power Treaty and the 1928 General Treaty for Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy. It goes on to say, "Japan lost sight of the global trends, and caused much harm to various countries, largely in Asia, through a reckless war."

The document criticizes Japan's colonial rule, stating, "In the colonies, Japan acted counter to the tide of self-determination. Colonial rule became particularly harsh from the second half of the 1930s on."

As such, the report basically adheres to key words and phrases in a 1995 statement issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war's end -- "a mistaken national policy," "its colonial rule and aggression," "tremendous damage and suffering" and "deep remorse."

The 16 members of the committee were selected privately by Prime Minister Abe. The panel was not tasked with determining the government's historical perceptions. The report also acknowledges that some members disagreed with the description of Japan's "aggression."

Still, it is of great significance that a panel that the prime minister set up as part of his efforts to draw up his statement put forth historical perceptions that are largely similar to those in the Murayama Statement.

If the prime minister were to sidestep the content of the report in his statement, the Japanese public and the international community would find it quite unnatural.

The report contains inappropriate expressions regarding Japan's efforts to reconcile with South Korea. It says that despite Japan's efforts to reconcile with the country, South Korea "moved the goalpost." It is inadvisable for the panel to use such an emotional expression in criticizing South Korea's diplomatic stance.

A bigger issue, however, is the statement Prime Minister Abe will issue based on the report.

Judging from his past words and deeds, there is no reason to doubt Abe is working enthusiastically on the statement out of dissatisfaction with the Murayama Statement. Prime Minister Abe has avoided using the word, "aggression," as the Murayama Statement did, while stating that he basically respects the Murayama Statement.

A statement to commemorate the 70th anniversary is not a setting in which the prime minister should express his personal historical perceptions. It is a statement issued by the person responsible for governing Japan. Abe should recognize this and work out a statement that will contribute to Japan's reconciliation with its neighbors.



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