/

Suga: Abe not in denial over ‘wars of aggression’ stance

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

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.

  • 151E

    Not in denial?!?! Yaaah, right. Where is the Japanese equivalent of The Daily Show when you need it? Roll clip from April 23rd Upper House session: “The definition of aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community. Things that happened between nations will look differently depending on which side you view them from.”

  • Masa Chekov

    It’d be great if media and politicians would spend 1/10 of the time worrying about important issues that affect Japan now as they do worrying about someone’s opinion on events 70 years ago. That’s all a long time ago and totally irrelevant.

    • 151E

      Totally irrelevant? The S. Korean foreign minister canceled a trip to Tokyo and China immediately lodged a complaint after the latest visit to Yasukuni by Japanese government officials. The attitude of Japanese leaders towards the country’s wartime legacy seems pretty relevant to Japan’s present international relations, or lack thereof, with its neighbours. It would be nice, as you say, if we could move past all this and concentrate instead on other issues, but we won’t so long as Japanese politicians continue to downplay and deny history.

      • Masa Chekov

        No. You have it completely backwards. We’ll never move past this until the Korean politicians quit trying to use the meaningless, irrelevant opinions of Japanese politicians on events from long, long ago to pander to their nationalist bases.

        It’s not Japan’s responsibility to suck up to Korean and Chinese nationalists.

      • 151E

        You’re correct that it’s not Japan’s responsibility to suck up to Korean and Chinese nationalists. But that doesn’t mean Japan should be allowed to deny responsibility for its past actions unchallenged. Showing remorse, or simply a little tact, is not the same as groveling. I think it is YOU that have it backwards. Korean and Chinese nationalists would get little traction from anti-Japanese tirades if prominent Japanese didn’t incessantly deny or equivocate over historical injustices. The annexation of Korea, to take but one example, cannot be seen by any impartial observer as anything but an act of aggression whatever ambiguity the word may pose for ‘scholars’. In short, if Japanese leaders would only STFU and refrain from publicly opining about the war, much of this would be bygones. Ever notice how Germany doesn’t have these kind of problems with its neighbours? There is a lesson in there somewhere.

      • Masa Chekov

        Did you read this very article? There’s an apology in it. Japan has repeatedly apologized for WWII and has done so for decades. It’s never enough for these overseas politicians. They want Japan to be forever on its knees towards them.

        It’s too much. Germany doesn’t have this problem because its neighbors don’t act like children about everything every politician in Germany does.

      • 151E

        I’m not totally unsympathetic to your point of view that the past should not forever hobble us and that Chinese and Korean politicians often use history to manipulate their public. And it is true that Japan has made numerous official apologies. BUT (and it’s a big ‘but’) then some prominent idiot like Abe undermines all that when he publicly opines that it is not clear if Japan waged a war of aggression or not. It makes the apologies seem insincere when you later deny having done anything wrong.

        German Chancellors are not given to public musings as to whether the annexing Poland was an act of aggression or not. Nor do they deny having used forced labour. And the German Ministry of Education doesn’t approve textbooks that whitewash history. That is why France, Poland, and even Russia and Israel aren’t forever complaining. If you can’t see the difference than, on this issue at least, I think you are willfully blind.

      • herewegoagain

        Honestly, it would be better if Japan severed ties (over time) w/ Korea and China. Granted, the economy would be hurt by it, but all in all it would be more beneficial for Japan in the long run.

      • blahblahblah

        Wrong. There’s still tension in Europe as well. In the case in Asia, only China and Korea overreact to the extreme, you don’t see the Phillipines burning down Japanese establishments or cutting off fingers to try to prove some “point”. Plain and simple, China and Korea will continue to complain regardless of what Japan does. Now if you can’t see that, then I think you are willfully blind.

      • 151E

        Not to rehash things or belabor old points of contention, but did you see the news that Germany has announced it voluntarily plans to pay an extra 800 million euros to help ensure elderly survivors of the Holocaust (some 56,000 people worldwide) can live their final years in dignity? And this is being done during a time of financial austerity across Europe no less. Perhaps you think it is kowtowing or showing weakness. I think it is admirable.

    • Spudator

      [E]vents 70 years ago [are] all a long time ago and totally irrelevant.

      According to that logic the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should stop making such a fuss about the atomic bombings that destroyed their cities and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Perhaps they could start by discontinuing their annual remembrance days and demolishing their remembrance halls and monuments. I mean what relevance can these things possibly have now?

  • des_gedow

    It is hypocritical to accuse Japan of waging wars of aggression and demanding wholesale apologies without mentioning the self same European and US.wars of aggression throughout their colonial past. What did the US do to the Phillipines. The occupied and used brute force similar to the previous Spanish colonialists. What has that country since done to Vietnam and Cambodia. What has it done to middle eastern states of late and still uses terror via its proxy Israel.
    What of the Dutch in Indonesia? What of French and British

    And what of the latter day bully China and Tibet?

    People who live in glass houses should refrain from throwing stones

    • 151E

      You’re quite right that there is plenty of blame to go around. Seeing what was happening in China and around the globe at the time, Meiji-era Japan naturally chose to join the club of empire instead of meekly submitting to be yet another European colony. However, Japanese denials and downplaying of the suffering it inflicted upon its neighbours only serve to add insult to injury, and is a source of ongoing discord and distrust. The excesses of other nations does not excuse Japan its transgressions.

    • http://profiles.google.com/johnfreyan john freyan

      Do you see any monuments in United States glorifying the Philippines War as a “War of liberation and enlightenment to protect Philippines from other European powers”? Any major US politicians stating that Filipinos should be grateful for US “taking them under her wings”?

      Mhm. Keep trying with the tu quoque fallacy. Maybe if you keep doing it, people won’t notice it anymore.

  • Agniel

    That’s right, just blame it all on those nasty Koreans again. Japan never ever did anything bad to anyone, and all crime in Japan is committed by the small number of Koreans living there. Happy?