SINGAPORE – Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Japan to admit to its misdeeds from World War II so it can play a more active role in the region.
“Japan needs to acknowledge past wrongs, and Japanese public opinion needs to be more forthright in rejecting the more outrageous interpretations of history by right-wing academics and politicians,” Lee said in a keynote speech at Friday’s opening of the Asia Security Summit conference, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
“Japan has already expressed remorse or apologies for the war in general terms,” he said. “But on specific issues like the ‘comfort women’ and the Nanjing Massacre, its positions have been less unequivocal.”
He observed that even though this year is the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, it “continues to cast a shadow over relations between the old adversaries, in particular between Japan and its neighbors China and Korea.”
“After 70 years, it is past the time to put this history behind us properly, like the Europeans have done. This requires statesmanship and largeness of spirit on both sides.”
While Beijing and Seoul do not think Tokyo has done enough to atone for the suffering caused by its aggression, Lee urged them to “accept Japan’s acknowledgements and not demand that Japan apologize over and over again.”
“The history of the war should not be used to put Japan on the defensive or to perpetuate enmities to future generations,” he said. “Such a reconciliation will also help Japan to become a normal country if it wishes to be.”
Concerning the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, he expressed hope that Japan and the United States will eventually join it. The two countries have not joined the launch of the bank for now due to concerns about its transparency and impact on existing financial institutions like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Lee went on to say that although most Southeast Asian countries want Japan to play a more active regional role, they are also wary of the possibility of being embroiled in the rivalry between Tokyo and Beijing.
“They will welcome a resolution of the war issues, as they themselves have done between themselves and Japan,” he said.
The annual Asia Security Summit opened on Friday evening with unabating tension over the South China Sea territorial disputes expected to take center stage, security analysts say.
In reference to the disputes, Lee urged China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to come up with a code of conduct on the South China Sea at the earliest opportunity, while warning against an outbreak of violence in the waters.
“But even if we avoid a physical clash, if the outcome is determined on the basis of ‘might is right,’ it will set a bad precedent,” he said.
Defense ministers from major powers and regional countries have gathered in Singapore to discuss security issues of concern to the region at the three-day forum, which was organized by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The speakers include defense ministers or military chiefs from the United States, Japan, China, Indonesia, India, Cambodia, Britain, New Zealand, Germany, Australia and Singapore.
On Saturday, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, who is representing Japan at the security forum, warned in his speech that land reclamation projects in the South China Sea risked plunging the region into disorder and urged nations, including China, to behave responsibly.
“If we leave any unlawful situation unattended, order will soon turn to disorder, and peace and stability will collapse,” Nakatani said. “I hope and expect all the countries, including China, to behave as a responsible power.”
Tensions have risen in the South China Sea in recent months over China’s construction of artificial islands as it tries to assert its claim to the potentially energy-rich waters around the Spratly archipelago. The Spratlys are claimed by half a dozen countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam and China.
Nakatani proposed what he dubbed the “Shangri-La Dialogue Initiative,” three measures to bolster maritime and air safety in the region, including round-the-clock monitoring of airspace by ASEAN members.