Facing criticism and questions both at home and abroad numerous times in recent weeks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga tried Friday to clarify, albeit indirectly, the government position that Japan waged wars of aggression in the 1930s and 1940s.
In expressing official views, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Suga had rigidly avoided the term “aggression,” raising concerns they may be trying to water down the official government position regarding the wars Japan waged in Asia.
But during a news conference Friday, Suga admitted Abe’s Cabinet “has inherited the position of past Cabinets,” including the admission that Japan waged wars of aggression.
“I don’t think the Abe Cabinet has ever denied the fact of aggression,” Suga said.
When asked their view on the wars, Abe and Suga have always quoted key parts of the 1995 apology issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama admitting Japan “caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries,” and they had “feelings of deep remorse.”
But until Friday’s news conference, neither Abe nor Suga had expressly taken the position of Murayama’s 1995 statement that Japan had waged wars of aggression.
The pair’s lack of clarity raised speculation that they may share the view of nationalistic politicians and voters who maintain that Japan fought wars of self-defense, not of aggression. Many are considered strong supporters of Abe.
The Murayama statement has been widely regarded as the key government apology for the wars Japan prosecuted and for its colonial rule of parts of Asia.
But in late April, Abe told the Diet that he does not uphold all of the Murayama statement, and claimed what is described as aggression “can be viewed differently,” depending on which side one is on. A big stir erupted when South Korean media reported that Abe sought to deny that Japan had waged wars of aggression.
Washington also reportedly conveyed its concerns over Abe’s stance on history, and major Japanese newspapers in the past few days ran articles on Abe’s recent controversial remarks on how he discussed the aggression issue.
Suga, Abe’s right-hand man, has meanwhile been trying to contain the historical fallout, particularly after South Korea and the United States reacted strongly.
Since being inaugurated in December, Abe has tried to keep a low profile in terms of history and instead focus on domestic economic issues, repeatedly calling China and South Korea key partners.
But he also often maintained an ambiguous stance toward sensitive historical issues, apparently to placate nationalistic voters and lawmakers while avoiding diplomatic fallout.
During a Diet session Friday shortly before the press conference, Suga, quoting key phrases from the Murayama statement, even repeated Japan’s apology to other parts of Asia.
“During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. I regard, in a spirit of humility, such facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology,” Suga quoted the statement as saying.
But Suga never mentioned “aggression,” drawing a harsh rebuke from Katsuya Okada of the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition force.
“You never mention the words ‘colonial rule’ nor ‘aggression.’ This is very significant and different from past Cabinets,” Okada said, noting people naturally assume the Abe Cabinet will not admit that Japan waged wars of aggression.
After being grilled by Okada, Suga, during the news conference later that day, suddenly admitted that Abe’s Cabinet upholds Murayama’s admission that Japan waged wars of aggression.
Administration officials appear to be worried that the Abe camp may suffer in the July Upper House election unless he concedes that Japan waged wars of aggression.