As the nation gears up for a statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, a panel of experts is to hold its first meeting Wednesday to discuss the statement’s content.
Thus far, Abe has voiced eagerness to make a “future-oriented” statement while playing down some key parts of the 1995 war anniversary statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, including a reference to Japan’s past “colonial rule and aggression.”
But if the statement is taken to represent a major shift in the government’s interpretation of history, Abe may face criticism not only from China and South Korea but also from its top ally, the United States.
Abe has said the statement will note Japan’s remorse for its role in the war while highlighting its postwar achievements as a peaceful nation and its intent to contribute more actively to peace in Asia and worldwide. In particular, Abe hopes to emphasize his policy of what he has dubbed Japan’s “proactive contribution to peace.”
In regards to historical issues, Abe has repeatedly told the Diet that he will maintain the general position of his predecessors.
However, in these remarks he has refrained from mentioning specifics, including key phrases in the Murayama statement such as “colonial rule and aggression” and “a mistaken national policy” in the run-up to the war.
“It would be meaningless to put out a new statement if all expressions are kept intact,” a government source said, noting this may be what Abe is thinking.
The panel will be chaired by Japan Post Holdings Co. President Taizo Nishimuro, who has strong contacts with China.
But it also includes a number of academics who have advised Abe. They include Kyoto University professor emeritus Terumasa Nakanishi and International University of Japan President Shinichi Kitaoka, who headed a panel on the right to collective self-defense.
While the panel will not draft the statement — its members merely express their opinions — some of them could propose the inclusion of expressions that appeal to nationalists.
Some lawmakers in the ruling coalition have called for prior consultations on the statement, which will be released in the summer.
Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi has stressed the need for “a consensus” in the ruling bloc to ensure the statement does not deviate from positions of past Cabinets. Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the General Council of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, has proposed discussions that also include representatives from opposition parties.
But those close to the prime minister have been reluctant.
In a speech Friday, Koichi Hagiuda, special adviser to Abe, said the statement should not be drafted through discussions with ruling or opposition lawmakers.
“We will not put out a statement that the United States would criticize,” a source close to Abe said. The comment apparently referred to Washington’s unusually critical response to Abe’s December 2013 visit to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
Abe also will face difficulties in crafting a statement that both pleases the conservative wing of his party and takes into account the sensibilities of other nations, including Asian neighbors and victims of Japan’s wartime aggression.