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.