Visiting German leader Angela Merkel reminds Japan to face its wartime past

Reuters, AFP-JIJI

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, referring to Germany’s own experience, reminded Japan on Monday of the need to squarely confront its wartime past but also signaled that neighboring countries must do their part to achieve reconciliation.

The polite reminder comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing to issue a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, the legacy of which still plagues Tokyo’s ties with China and South Korea.

The statement will be closely watched by Beijing and Seoul, which suffered under Japanese militarism, as well as Tokyo’s closest ally, Washington.

Abe has said he intends to express remorse over the war and that his Cabinet upholds past apologies, including the landmark 1995 statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama. But it is unclear whether Abe will repeat the “heartfelt apology” or the reference to “colonial rule and aggression” in that statement.

In a speech at the start of her first visit to Japan since 2008, Merkel referred to a 1985 speech by the late German President Richard von Weizsaecker in which he called the end of World War II in Europe a “day of liberation” and said those who closed their eyes to the past were “blind to the present”.

Asked how Germany was able to reconcile with its one-time enemies after the war, Merkel said: “Without big gestures by our neighbors that would not have been possible. . . . But there was the acceptance in Germany to call things by their name.”

Feuds over wartime history as well as territorial rows over disputed islands and geopolitical rivalry have frayed Tokyo’s ties with Seoul and Beijing in recent years. Sino-Japanese relations have thawed a little since Abe met Chinese leader Xi Jinping last November, but ties with Seoul remain frosty.

Some scholars say that while Japan bears part of the blame for East Asia’s inability to lay the ghosts of the war to rest because its conservative politicians often cast doubt on the sincerity of past apologies, China and South Korea also keep tensions alive because history can be a useful political and diplomatic card.

The public lecture came on the first day of a two-day trip by Merkel to Tokyo.

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday that Abe would be welcome at Beijing’s commemorations for the end of World War II if he is “sincere” about history.

Beijing has not given a specific date for the parade.

“It’s difficult for me as the German chancellor to give you advice on how to deal with part of your neighborhood,” Merkel said in response to questions.

“But I think history and experience tells us also that peaceful means of reconciliation have to be found,” she said.

Merkel later met with Abe after visiting the Imperial Palace to meet Emperor Akihito.

The two leaders agreed to cooperate further for the peace and stability in the international community.

“As responsible global partners, the two countries have very important roles in addressing various issues the international society face,” Abe said at a joint news conference after the summit.

Abe said the two countries will promote cooperation on such issues as the Ukrainian crisis and reforming the U.N. Security Council.

  • George Sayre

    Japan can only win against China by multinational sanctions.

  • left nut

    Just waiting for the right-wing/Japanophiles spin to start here, on other news sources, they are spinning hard to deny, down play and distract! Tragic comedy to be honest… pure Red Herring…

    • Gordon Graham

      or the rancourphiles to puke their bile all over the comments section

      • left nut

        LOL keep on posting you guys are doing a great job of winning over hearts and minds!

      • Gordon Graham

        The hearts and minds of whom? The 10 or so bitter ex-pats on here who can’t squeeze enough out of their hate-on for the Japanese? Nobody else cares…

      • left nut

        Hate for Japan? nice try, I have no hate for Japan, per your insinuation, nor am I an ex-pat. I will let your imagination go wild, on who/what I think I am.

        “Nobody else cares…” however your crass reponses seem to indicate you do… so what does that make you? a bitter right winged nationalist or an offended Japanophile? my original post made no indication of hate for Japan but you drew that conclusion… All I did was voice my anticipation of the revisionist “comments” and how it’s a tragic comedy… and it is.

      • Gordon Graham

        Who YOU are is irrelevant. If what I wrote doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to you does it? Again, the “hearts and minds of whom” is my query…Well it’s more of an amusement than a query, because there are only a handful of non-Japanese who frequent these threads and they’ve all made up their minds one way or the other…So, you see how empty and meaningless your little catchphrase is.

      • left nut

        Yet, here we are in this little circle jerk. I must be important enough for you to respond to and to assume I am not of Japanese decent. What I wrote does apply in more ways then one.

        Please climb down off of your horse, you fail to grasp the irony of your rant as my catch phrases have affected you…

        [Edit] Good day…

      • Gordon Graham

        It’s just a meaningless conversation, guy. No need to flatter yourself. I have a lot of free time…I have no assumptions whatsoever as to who or what you are.

      • left nut

        Agreed, no ego here… I too have time to kill, this seems like a good place to end things…

        “guy”, heh… Possibly Eastern Canadian or from the UK… Only heard people use “guy” where there’s decent sized Jamaican population… anyways good day…

      • Gordon Graham

        Canadian…A bientôt

      • left nut

        Born in Toronto… cheers to you

      • Gordon Graham


  • Hedy

    Since when is Merkel the appointed disciplinarian?

  • p56741944

    If European nations did not to need Germany for their economic purposes, they might reconsider.
    China and S Korea also said nothing about the past until they did not need monetary and technological help from Japan.