Abe war comment roils S. Korean media

Newspapers have a field day with Diet remark

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Tokyo has again been forced into damage control over issues of history as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks on Japan’s wartime aggression Tuesday triggered big headlines in South Korea.

“Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the fact of aggression itself in answering a question in the Upper House on April 23,” read a translated article posted Wednesday on the Japanese-language website of the major South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

The Chosun Ilbo quoted experts as saying Abe may have “denied” Japan waged a war of aggression to shed its “reputation as war criminal country” and thereby rearm and become a country “that can wage a war” again.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide stressed Wednesday that the policy of regarding South Korea and China as key partners is unchanged, saying he believes only “fragmentary parts” of Abe’s remarks were reported.

“We don’t want (history issues) to affect our entire bilateral relationships” with China and South Korea, Suga told a news conference. “Our policy to strengthen our bilateral relationships has not changed at all.”

On Tuesday during an Upper House session, Abe was asked to comment on the 1995 statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who straightforwardly apologized for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression,” which “caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries.”

Abe didn’t elaborate, but he did claim that the definition of “aggression” in general has yet to be “firmly determined” by academic experts or the international community.

What is described as aggression “can be viewed differently” depending on which side you’re on, Abe said.

Major South Korean newspapers slammed Abe on their front pages Wednesday, adding to the strain over Sunday’s visit by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and scores of other lawmakers to war-related Yasukuni Shrine.

Murayama’s statement, which has been officially endorsed by every Cabinet since, including Abe’s own, has been regarded as a key apology for Japan’s wartime aggression in other parts of Asia as well as its colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.

Three Cabinet ministers and 168 other Diet members have visited Yasukuni Shrine in the past few days, enraging China and South Korea.

The visits drew flak from the Japanese media as well, as Japan needs close cooperation from China and South Korea to deal with North Korea’s belligerence.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se canceled a meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida planned for later this week, and a three-way summit with South Korea and China in May is expected to be canceled or postponed.

  • Spudator

    What is described as aggression “can be viewed differently” depending on which side you’re on, Abe said.

    I can’t believe he said that. (Well, actually, yes I can.) That was the kind of doublethink used to justify the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere during World War II. You can imagine Japanese wartime prime minister Hideki Tojo saying something like, “These Asian countries we’ve occupied think we’re aggressors, but actually we’re just trying to give them a helping hand. We’re the good guys. Honest.”

    In a way, you’ve got to like these rightists. Whatever their faults (and they’ve certainly got lots of those), they do at least stick to their guns when it comes to ideology. This is how they thought in the 1930′s; this is how they think now. Who needs trendy modern ideas just because it’s the 21st century?

  • Takahiro Katsumi

    The definition of aggression was stipulated and agreed upon by consensus by all participating states at the 2010 Kampala Review Conference on the Rome Statute including major non- state parties such as United States, China, and Russia, preceded by the UN General Assembly Resolution regarding the definition of aggression adopted unanimously in 1974. Japan is state party to the Rome Statute and was also present at the Kampala conference and has given, albeit weak, consent on the adoption of the definition of crime of aggression. There is no reasonable excuse for a head of state to make such an irresponsible remark at the seat of a formal parliamentary debate.

  • rdomain

    This is an absolutely disgusting remark. It just shows what the Japanese psyche is – Japan seems to have a cultural flaw, which is an inability to accept the truth. Why isn’t there an uproar in Japan about this? If a German Prime Minister minimized what the Nazis did, there would be an uproar in Germany. If an American President minimized slavery, there would be an uproar in the US. Why isn’t there an uproar in Japan?

    • Glen Douglas Brügge

      Andy, the reason is: most (not all) Japanese don’t really know much about the role they played in the war. It is often filtered and sanitized by their education system and media. It also has a lot to do with the post-war “desire to forget” and the general denial that theirs was not a war of aggression, but one of liberation from European powers. If this is all the later generations see, how will they know? Also, a lot of what Japan did, occurred not within the confines of the country, but in distant lands, making it quite easy to only focus on the suffering of the Japanese people as victims of their politicians’/military’s misguided campaigns and not the responsibility of the nation as a whole. It’s a very complex mix of things. The greatest danger being, people who forget tend to repeat the same mistakes.