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With speech, Abe faces tough sell in skeptical U.S. Congress

Reuters, JIJI

When Shinzo Abe becomes the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, he will face two formidable challenges: convincing skeptical lawmakers about a proposed Pacific trade pact and easing concerns about his views on Tokyo’s wartime past.

The Obama administration has rolled out the red carpet for Abe, seeking to showcase deeper defense ties and advance the long-delayed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal as the two allies work to counter China’s rising power in the region.

But with many of Obama’s fellow Democrats reluctant to back his trade agenda for fear that it will hurt U.S. jobs, Abe could have a hard time selling them on the need to break down trade barriers with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim countries involved in the negotiations.

While Abe is sure to receive a warm welcome in Congress as a reliable U.S. partner, the conservative leader — who has sought to cast Japan’s aggressive World War II-era conduct in a less-apologetic tone — can expect intense scrutiny of his speech for how he handles history.

The issue remains a sensitive one for Asian neighbors, especially China and U.S. ally South Korea, nearly 70 years after Japan’s defeat.

Some American critics, including politicians and war veterans, have urged Abe to use the speech to make a strong public expression of contrition about World War II to erase concerns that he is trying to dilute past official statements of remorse by Japanese leaders.

Rep. Mike Honda, a California Democrat, recently sent a bipartisan letter to the Japanese ambassador to Washington asking Abe to “squarely face history” during his speech.

Abe will address Congress from the spot where President Franklin Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war against Imperial Japan after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The speech will coincide with Japan’s national holiday marking the birthday of its wartime emperor, Hirohito, who is known posthumously as Showa.

If Abe sticks to the script he has followed since launching his U.S. trip earlier this week, he is likely to uphold previous Japanese apologies, including a 1995 landmark statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, but will probably stop short of directly issuing any new ones.

When asked at a joint news conference with Obama on Tuesday whether he would make a full apology for Japan’s wartime actions, Abe repeated what he said Monday.

“I am deeply pained to think about the ‘comfort women’ who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering as a result of victimization due to human trafficking,” he said. “This is a feeling that I share equally with my predecessors.”

“Comfort women” is a euphemism for Korean and other Asian women forced into prostitution at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

Many Japanese conservatives have said there is no proof of direct state involvement in kidnapping the women.

Abe is under pressure from critics to allay concerns that he wants to whitewash Japan’s history of wartime aggression. His 2013 visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the nation’s war dead but is also where a number of convicted war criminals are memorialized, angered Seoul and Beijing.

But Abe’s conservative domestic allies feel fresh apologies are unneeded.

Obama’s aides, mindful of the regional tensions stoked by Abe’s ambivalent views of history, have insisted Washington wants Abe to deal with history in a forthright, constructive way. They have declined to say whether they recommended any language for Abe’s speech, which his aides say he will deliver in English.

An official traveling with Abe said there was “no notable discussion” of the speech in talks with Obama on Tuesday, except for the president saying he looked forward to hearing it.

Obama was to follow presidential custom and would not be present.

On Tuesday, Abe and Obama agreed to strengthen the two countries’ defense alliance on a global scale under recently revised defense cooperation guidelines.

They also cited progress in the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks but noted hurdles remain before a breakthrough can be reached.

“The Japan-U.S. alliance, based on an unwavering bond, is essential to the peace and stability of the world,” Abe told a joint news conference after his meeting with Obama that lasted about two hours. “There is no doubt deterrence will be strengthened further.”

Obama said: “We are two global partners.”

The two leaders adopted a joint statement, saying the bilateral relationship “stands as a model of the power of reconciliation.” Former adversaries “have become steadfast allies,” the statement said ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The latest meeting of Abe and Obama “marks a historic step forward in transforming the U.S.-Japan partnership,” the statement said.

At a “two plus two” meeting of the countries’ foreign and defense ministers on Monday, Japan and the United States revised their bilateral defense cooperation guidelines for the first time in 18 years.

The revised guidelines “will update our respective roles and missions within the Alliance and enable Japan to expand its contributions to regional and global security,” the statement said.

At the news conference, Obama confirmed the U.S. obligation to protect the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea under the bilateral security treaty.

“Article 5 (of the treaty) covers all territories under Japan’s administration,” the U.S. president said. The islets are also claimed by China.

The statement did not directly point the finger at China for its expansion in the East and South China Seas or Russia for its annexation of Crimea.

However, it said: “State actions that undermine respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity by attempting to unilaterally change the status quo by force or coercion pose challenges to the international order.”

At the news conference, Obama said he supports China’s peaceful rise. He also said he does not think that Beijing will consider a stronger U.S.-Japan alliance a provocation.

Abe also said it was important to implement the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, now located in Ginowan, Okinawa, to the Henoko district in Nago in the same prefecture.

Building a replacement airstrip for Futenma in Henoko will help remove the dangers arising from the Futenma base, Abe said. The relocation plan is widely unpopular in Okinawa, where voters elected a governor in the fall who ran on a platform opposing it.

At the meeting, Obama and Abe also reaffirmed that they would cooperate to deal with North Korean issues, such as its nuclear and missile programs and the abduction of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang’s spies in the 1970s and ’80s.

The meeting on Tuesday was the leaders’ first since November, when they held talks in Brisbane, Australia.

  • Eagle

    “Abe repeats ‘comfort women’ remorse”.

    Christ, for how many times need Japan to apologize?

    • R0ninX3ph

      Maybe when they start admitting that the Imperial Japanese Army were the ones sourcing the women in the first place? It literally doesn’t matter if the people who were doing the actual abducting were “Korean” (at the time.. they were Imperial Japanese citizens). If there wasn’t a NEED for the women, the people doing the abducting wouldn’t have done it.

      The Imperial Japanese Army created the system and created the demand for women. Thus, it should be apologised for, not sidestepped with statements like “we feel remorse” or “it is regrettable”. Neither of those are actually saying “Sorry”.

      Also… What Ron NJ said above.

      • Eagle

        You should try sarcasm instead that might work better. Japan has apologized many times and payed compensation to the South Korean government that somewhat forgot to give the money to them. That’s not the name of the game now any more. It’s not what the story is about now.

      • kension86

        >”That’s not the name of the game now any more. It’s not what the story is about now.”

        Right, in the words of Merkel to Abe, it’s not about more apology, it’s about “face the past squarely” to Abe, who’s the head of a revisionism group in Japan.

    • kension86

      “I am deeply pained to think about the ‘comfort women’ who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering as a result of victimization due to human trafficking,” Abe said.

      That’s not an “apology” though. Since majority of the human traffickers in Korea were…. Koreans.

      Abe’s basically saying, “Yea I feel bad about these victims, but regarding comfort women, Korean human traffickers shared most of the blame.”

      It is what it is, but it is not an “apology” by a long shot.

  • Ron NJ

    Abe didn’t apologize for Japan forcing women into sexual slavery. He stated that he has remorse for the comfort women who were victims of human trafficking. At no point did he admit the Japanese government’s complicity in sexual slavery.

    Yet another unapology by the Japanese government.

    • johnniewhite

      Zannen deshita ne.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Obama and Abe got what they wanted from each other. Obama needs some palpable demonstration that his rebalance to Asia is something more than just rhetoric. Abe gave that to him by committing to finish TPP soon and by pledging more Japanese military support for the alliance. The shared concern is China.

    It might have been better if Obama had stood up more for the victims of war time sexual enslavement by Imperial Japan but I guess more reinforcements to contain China now were more important to Obama than victims of human rights violations.

  • Jonathan Fields

    I don’t know why we’re only focusing on the ‘comfort women’ issue. These right-wing historical revisionists also deny the various massacres, the inhuman treatment of POWs, the chemical and biological weapons testing in China, the cannibalism, the perfidy (such as pretending to surrender only to fight when the opponent let their guard down), the rapes and sexual violence, all of it. I met a woman at a Kyoto University function who said she would “burn Angelina Jolie to death for spreading lies about Japan.” These people crazy, Abe and company included.

    • Eagle

      That’s for playing out the shame card,’cos the rape thing is so obvious and easy to understand, kind of humiliating, shameful and worse than murder that noone’s going to ask embarrassing questions about it such as they would do it in other cases like; in whose hands did the results of chemical and biological weapons testing ended up, what had happened to those Japanese chemists, scientists, and engineers, where did they continue their cursed work under full protection, etc.

  • Jean-Michel Levy

    It is meaningless to demand apology from people who weren’t even born at the end of the war whereas in those times, the principal culprit, then emperor Hiro Hito, was whitewashed by Douglas Mac Arthur representing America
    and offered a golden lifetime job, instead of the gallows he deserved more
    than any of those who were actually executed. By manipulating tradition, religion and brainwashing people, the militarist rulers had persuaded people that the emperor was a semi god who identified with Japan. So if this guy wasn’t responsible, who on earth, was ? The stupidity of this piece of American policy will never be overstressed. It has seeded confusion in the minds of most Japanese people ever since. Americans are not responsible
    for what Mac Arthur did back then, but it really doesn’t belong to them to tell
    the Japanese what they ought to do, unless they finally admit the error and
    suggest, for example, that April 29, which is Showa day (Showa being the
    post mortem name of HiroHito and his times) be henceforth devoted to learning about the victims of Imperial Japan.

    • Tando

      You can add, that the US funded the creation of Abe’s party the LDP. With the blessings of the US his grandfather Kishi became one its founders and later prime minister instead of being tried as a war criminal.

  • Chuck

    ROFLMAO Has the US apologised for Perry’s visit and demands of the Japanese, to Mexico, and last but not least to the American Indians. Have we apologised for the so-called comfort women we provided for our troops (disguised by other names) in occupied Germany and Japan? I think not! This is like the pot calling the kettle black, why don’t we all just shut up and concentrate on solving the problems in the US.

    • Jonathan Fields

      Why should America apologize for Perry? If we use Japanese right-wing logic, Perry was good for Japan. The Japanese were a backwards people who got into trouble with the U.S. for torturing and killing whalers who washed up on their shores. They deserved to be opened up and exposed to modern ideas. It was for their own good. Or does that argument only work when Japan makes it?

  • CaptainAsia

    Abe gave a great speech. Good Job.

  • Lord Matsumura

    Japan times is joke.
    actually they are “Anti Japan”.
    Awkward.

    No Japanese likes that news except communists. Just like Sellout Asianist Mike Honda.

    And most people don’t even talk about “Japanese comfort woman” right after WW2. And Nuked twice and bombed Japan and killing civilians and blaming Japanese POW? War is not simple like those people thinking.

    Japanese aren’t bitching like Koreans do.
    That’s not our style. Not Gangnam style either.

    And revisionist are funny word to all Japanese even who are not revisionist.
    Just like person don’t know nothing about China and saying friendly.

    We could say China is friendly cause next to it, but Those people don’t.