NAGASAKI – Is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe truly willing to play an active role in ridding the world of nuclear arms?
That was the question posed by atomic bomb survivors, mayors and peace activists at a series of events Tuesday and Friday commemorating the 68th anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Referring to Japan’s recent failure to back an international statement rejecting the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, Masayuki Yamada, a 72-year-old hibakusha from Nagasaki, said Friday: “Japan is the only atomic-bombed country. It has to sign it first.
“As a Nagasaki citizen who experienced the A-bombing, I cannot help but feel anger,” he said near the hypocenter in what is now the city’s Peace Park, which he visits every Aug. 9 to mourn the roughly 74,000 fatalities.
According to critics, Japan’s refusal to sign the statement at an April preparatory committee session in Geneva for the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review meeting highlights the contradiction between Abe’s calls for the elimination of nuclear arms and the government’s reliance on the deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
At Nagasaki’s memorial ceremony Friday, Mayor Tomihisa Taue criticized the Abe administration, saying Japan’s failure to sign the Geneva statement is “betraying of the expectations of global society” and “implies that the government would approve of their use under some circumstances.”
Among other worrying issues is the resumption of negotiations on a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India that must precede Japanese exports of nuclear technology to the country, which has a nuclear arsenal but has not signed the NPT.
At Tuesday’s ceremony to mark the A-bombing of Hiroshima, Mayor Kazumi Matsui said that even if the civil nuclear agreement “promotes (the two countries’) economic relationship, it is likely to hinder nuclear weapons abolition.”
Abe pledged utmost efforts toward the elimination of nuclear arms at both ceremonies. But he told reporters in Nagasaki on Friday that although he supports the basic idea behind the Geneva statement, his government has to take into consideration the “severe environment” surrounding Japan, especially the North Korean nuclear threat.
Arguing there is no contradiction in the government’s stance on the abolition of nuclear arms, Abe vowed to continue working to achieve a nuclear-free world by “taking realistic and practical approaches.”
The right-wing Abe’s drive to revise the war-renouncing Constitution and restart the country’s nuclear reactors, all but two of which remain offline in view of the Fukushima catastrophe, is also heightening concern.
The Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs adopted a resolution calling for the decommissioning of all the nation’s nuclear plants, while the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs declared its support for citizens’ groups working to prevent the Abe camp’s quest to amend the Constitution.
“Abe’s government is going against the call for a nuclear-free world in three ways: by seeking to restart reactors and promote exports of atomic technology, by refusing to back the (Geneva) statement and by depending on the U.S. nuclear umbrella,” said Akira Kimura, a professor of peace studies at Kagoshima University.
Abe, who is pushing constitutional reform to reinforce national defense, told a news conference in Nagasaki that “for the first time, revision of the Constitution is being discussed with a sense of reality.”
Yamada, the A-bomb survivor, said he believes the peace Japan has enjoyed since the end of World War II is down to Article 9 of the charter, which states: “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.”
Hagiko Okuda, 85, also a Nagasaki hibakusha, said, “I am absolutely opposed to the (Constitution’s) revision.”
Okuda was 17 at the time of the bombing but said she was miraculously unharmed and joined relief activities amid the devastation. She collected wood from shattered houses to cremate the huge number of unidentified bodies, a process that went on for days. She said she cannot forget the smell of burning human flesh.
“I don’t want to talk about the aftermath of the bombing because it was too cruel,” she said. “My voice may be weak but I intend to keep calling for nuclear elimination.”
The total of nuclear weapons in the world numbered 17,300 at the start of this year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.