WASHINGTON – The White House on Friday gave high marks to a statement issued by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
“We welcome Prime Minister Abe’s expression of deep remorse for the suffering caused by Japan during the World War II era, as well as his commitment to uphold past Japanese government statements on history,” a White House National Security Council spokesman said in a statement.
“We also value . . . Abe’s assurances of Japan’s intent to expand upon its contributions to international peace and prosperity in the years ahead,” the White House statement said.
“For 70 years, Japan has demonstrated an abiding commitment to peace, democracy and the rule of law,” it said, adding, “This record stands as a model for nations everywhere.”
In his statement on Friday, Abe said: “Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war. . . . Such position articulated by the previous Cabinets will remain unshakable into the future,” he said.
“Japan will firmly uphold basic values such as freedom, democracy, and human rights as unyielding values and . . . hoist the flag of ‘proactive contribution to peace,’ and contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world more than ever before,” he said.
Washington believes that improving relations between Japan and its neighbors would be in its interests.
In particular, it views the reconciliation between Japan and South Korea, both U.S. allies, as the key for the United States’ policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region.
In this context, the U.S. government had indicated its hopes that key words such as “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” would be included in the Abe statement while saying that it would be up to Japan to choose words for the statement.
Relations between Japan and South Korea have been strained due to differing views on 20th century history as well as territorial disputes, including a rift over so-called comfort women who were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops at military brothels before and during World War II
Sheila Smith, a senior fellow for Japan studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted that “words . . . that were stipulated by domestic and international critics as being necessary to reassure that Japan was not revising its stance on its 20th century history” were included in the Abe statement.
Historians may quibble, but overall it is a positive statement from the perspective of Japan’s diplomacy in the region, Smith added.
But some experts doubt Abe’s statement will lead to an improvement in Japan’s relationships with China and South Korea.
James Schoff, a senior associate for Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “The statement spends very little time considering Japan’s colonial experience and the impact that had on South Korea.”
I expect that will be viewed as a missed opportunity by Seoul,” Schoff said.