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Abe on message, but regional tensions remain


Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have done a relatively good job in delivering one message Wednesday to the joint session of the U.S. Congress: Japan and America have reconciled well since World War II ended 70 years ago.

That acknowledgement may not have been difficult, but whether his actions and words can ease tensions with China and South Korea remain to been seen.

Abe’s address to the joint session was a focus of attention for some world leaders over how he referred to Japan’s wartime misdeeds, because of speculation he may repeat the same phrasing when he issues a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in August.

Abe didn’t extend another official apology to any nations. But he mentioned the young Americans who lost their lives during the war and expressed “deep remorse over the war.”

“Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that,” Abe also told the joint session.

“I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard,” he said.

Abe received many standing ovations from members of Congress while delivering his speech.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, an influential leader and noted security expert, praised Abe’s speech immediately afterward, saying on Twitter: “Excellent speech by #Japan PM @AbeShinzo — an important step toward strengthening our ‘alliance of hope.’ “

The reaction of U.S. and Asian media outlets to Abe’s address is yet to be seen. But as far as public opinion in the U.S. is concerned, his goal to play up postwar reconciliation between Japan and the United States undoubtedly went off without a hitch.

According to a national interview survey by Pew Research Center conducted in January and February, 37 percent of U.S. adult respondents say Japan has apologized sufficiently for World War II and 24 percent say an apology is no longer necessary. Just 29 percent voice the view that Japan has not apologized sufficiently for its actions during the war.”Not all Americans have become sensitive about history issues,” Fumiaki Kubo, a professor at the University of Tokyo and an expert on U.S. politics, said last week

“When compared with other countries involved in war or colonial rule, I think you can say Japan and the U.S. have achieved reconciliation in a rather good manner” in the postwar years, he said.

In his address, Abe did not touch on any specific atrocities Japan committed during its war with China or its 1910 to 1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

Attention will now shift to whether Abe will maintain his current nonprovocative posture in Asia, how Japan and South Korea will observe the 50th anniversary of their postwar bilateral basic treaty in June, and how Japan will observe the 70th anniversary of its World War II surrender in August.

In preparing for his visit to the United States, Abe apparently tried to stress one thing to U.S. leaders and the public: He is not a historical revisionist who seeks to challenge the postwar order established by the United States.

Abe is an ardent supporter of the Japan-U.S. military alliance, centering most of his diplomatic and security policies on it, including efforts to keep a rising China in check.

At the same time, Abe is a strong supporter of Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan’s war dead as well as Class-A Japanese war criminals, most notably Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo who was executed by the U.S.-led postwar tribunal.

Abe is also a powerful advocate of revising the postwar, pacifist Constitution, which was drafted by the U.S.-led Occupation force.

Abe’s prime aim in advocating right-leaning policies seems to be to garner support from nationalist lawmakers and voters in Japan. But Beijing has tried to portray him as a nationalist leader who challenges the postwar order set by the United States, urging the U.S. and other countries to form a united front against Abe.

During a Lower House session on March 3, Abe emphasized that his well-known campaign phrase “breaking away from the postwar regime” refers to efforts to reform various domestic systems and has nothing to do with diplomacy.

The comments suggest that, facing Beijing’s growing influence and U.S. leaders’ concerns over his stance on history, Abe has apparently tried to shift the meaning of his campaign phrase.

“The phrase ‘breaking away from the postwar regime,’ has caused a misunderstanding overseas. It’s about internal affairs,” Abe said during the Lower House session, adding that it’s not a challenge to the international postwar systems.

  • Tenant1234

    The logical consequence of Japan’s renewing post war constitution is for China and N Korea and S Korea to declare war on Japan immediately ; and wipe
    these barbarians out completely this time.

    • 151E

      The only barbarian I see is the one above espousing genocide.

  • lycg

    Noted security expert = senile warmonger

  • CaptainAsia

    Who cares about China, they just shot to death thousands in Xinjiang.
    Korea? they should know better than to attack Japan, it is shameful for them to stoop this low.

  • CaptainAsia

    Cultural and human Genocide in Tibet…..Hello China?

  • Ahojanen

    Abe was speaking at the joint session in order NOT to impress China/Korea. Their stalking behavior and harassment have crossed the line, and out of context.

  • catking2003

    Is it surprising to see reconciliation between US and Japan? How many American civilians Japanese killed during Pearl Harbor? How many Japanese civilians Americans killed during Tokyo bombing and Nagasaki/Hiroshima? But can we say the same for Japanese and Chinese or Japanese and Koreans?

    An eye for an eye; A tooth for a tooth as they say. US at least return 1 million eyes for whichever one eye Japan poked. Not the case for China and Korea.

    Japan, however, would have reigned supreme without US intervention and it is understandable that it feels not one ounce of sympathy to the “lesser people” of China and Korea. However, as long as this sentiment remains, there is nothing short of a war can resolve the problem in East Asia today.

  • R. Vandaka

    China and South Korea should not criticize what Japan PM Abe said, didn’t say or should have said on his visit to USA. What rights do they have to tell a head of government of a sovereign nation what to say?
    Japan Abe Administration have requested a formal meetings with China and South Korea respective head of government several times now, yet both decline repeatedly. They had that chances to directly talk to Abe over suxh such issues, yet they avoid direct conversation, and show willingness to criticize Abe behind his back where he can’t defend himself.

    China and S.Korea just seem petty abd cowards.

    • kension86

      > “Japan Abe Administration have requested a formal meetings with China and South Korea respective head of government several times now, yet both decline repeatedly.”

      You are right, although Xi did meet and talk with Abe last week.

  • boonteetan

    Do not expect Abe to apologize for Japan’s atrocities in China or WWII. He has his own version of history.

  • Richard Solomon

    No surprise fewer Americans believe Japan has not apologized sufficiently for its aggression during WW II. After all, Japan has pretty much done as America has wished when it has come to security arrangements, etc. Eg, all the bases on Okinawa.

    With China and S Korea, however, it is a different story. Japan’s aggression had a much more direct and long lasting impact on the citizens of these two countries.

    Abe cannot even say the same words that former PM’s have on the 50th and 60th anniversary of the end of the war. As it is, conciliatory words come much easier than conciliatory deeds.

    He can say his ‘heart aches’ over comfort women but he actually does nothing else to demonstrate and atone for these feelings. Eg, would he meet with some of these women? Would he authorize money never paid to them in compensation to finally be released? Would he offer to build a memorial in honor of these women somewhere on Japanese soil? Any one, let alone a combination, of these kinds of deeds would go a long way towards healing the rift with the S. Korean people.

    It’s never going to happen but it’d be amazing if Obama and Abe each engaged in some kind of conciliatory actions in August. Obama could do something in honor of and to compensate the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Abe could do something for comfort women and victims of the Nanking massacre. Critics would howl that these actions would be a sign of weakness. Supporters would say that it is great leadership for people to do these kinds of things 70 years later as a way to truly take responsibility for one’s actions and as a sign of reconciliation.