Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering visiting China in early September in a bid to repair strained bilateral ties, a government source said Saturday.
Abe is exploring the possibility of traveling either before or after a ceremony in Beijing slated for Sept. 3 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the source said, adding that he will likely skip the event itself.
China has extended an official invitation to Abe to attend the event marking Beijing’s victory in what it calls “the war of resistance against Japanese aggression,” but has yet to receive the Japanese leader’s response, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said Friday during a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
A Japanese government source said in March that Beijing had requested Abe’s attendance. China’s Foreign Ministry, however, did not make the invitation public at that time.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as the leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will attend the ceremony commemoration event in Beijing.
From Japan, former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama has expressed intention to take part.
China’s announcement of the invitation at a multilateral forum may be intended to focus attention on a statement Abe is expected to make marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Beijing has urged Abe to include a full apology and note Japan’s “war of aggression” in the statement.
At Friday’s meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to Japanese military aggression during WWII, saying he would never tolerate attempts to distort history and trample on peace.
If Abe visits Beijing, he would likely be seeking talks with Xi to ease tense ties, sources said. Relations have been strained over an island territorial dispute and differing perceptions of history.
However, the trip could be contingent on what he says in his WWII statement, as well as on developments in China’s land reclamation and sovereignty claims in the East and South China Sea.
National Security Council chief Shotaro Yachi is planning to travel to Beijing later this month for talks with Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, who serves as state councilor, the source said, in a trip that would lay the groundwork for a visit by the prime minister.
Abe is apparently following German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s example, after she flew to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin the day after Moscow marked the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany on May 9.
Abe and Xi held talks last November in Beijing and this April in Jakarta on the sidelines of international conferences.
China apparently hopes to improve relations with Japan before Xi heads to the United States in September. Abe is also eager to repair ties with Beijing, which could bolster his Cabinet’s approval rating, after bruising Diet deliberations over controversial security bills have left him bloodied, observers say.
Abe plans to express “deep remorse” over the conflict in the statement, though he is unlikely to offer an apology, sources close to him said Friday.
The prime minister will finalize the draft after receiving a report on July 21 from an advisory panel on what the text should contain, they said.
He will unveil the statement at a news conference he plans to call before Aug. 15, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, taking into account that Emperor Akihito will make remarks on that day.
The omission of an apology may spark criticism from China and South Korea, two countries that have urged Abe to use phrases such as “heartfelt apology,” “colonial rule” and “aggression,” as were used — along with “deep remorse” — in the statement that Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued on Aug. 15, 1995, to mark the 50th anniversary of the war’s end.
A 60th anniversary statement issued by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi contained such phrases as well.
But Abe calculates that even if he makes no apology the statement itself could win a certain level of understanding from the international community because a recent address he made to the U.S. Congress won acclaim in the U.S. and elsewhere even though it stopped short of apologizing for the war, the sources said.
“Post war, we started out on our path bearing in mind feelings of deep remorse over the war. Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that,” Abe told a joint session of Congress on April 29.
“I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard,” he said.
In what will be a “future-oriented” statement, the prime minister is expected to underscore the importance of upholding universal values of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, according to the sources.
Abe is likely to express Japan’s pledge to increase international cooperation in line with his policy of proactive contributions to peace based on the principle of international cooperation, they said.
Japanese government officials and members of Abe’s advisory panel have expressed reluctance about Abe issuing a fresh apology.
“Past prime ministers have offered official apologies for many occasions,” a government official said. “We should put an end (to this) by looking into the future.”
One panel member said, “Reconciliation requires efforts by both sides, not a unilateral apology from the Japanese side.”
Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan and the acting head of the panel, said a report the body will submit to Abe is likely to say Japan committed aggression in other parts of Asia. But it is up to the prime minister what his statement will say, Kitaoka added.
Abe has been studying detailed expressions in the statement and whether or not to seek Cabinet approval for the statement, according to the sources. The government’s official stance is usually approved by all Cabinet ministers.