Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent remarks on Japan’s wartime behavior and Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines some 2.5 million Japanese war dead plus convicted Class-A war criminals from World War II, will undermine the trust that postwar Japan has built in the international community. Japan’s neighbors will not forget the sufferings and hardships they experienced from Japan’s war in the 1930s and ’40s, and Japan cannot force them to erase their memories. Mr. Abe must realize that his remarks and attitude will undermine Japan’s position as a trusted and responsible member of the international community.
On April 20 and 21, three Cabinet ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso visited Yasukuni Shrine. And on April 23, 168 lawmakers, the highest figure since 1987, made similar visits to the shrine.
Mr. Abe told the Upper House Budget Committee on April 23 that the definition of “aggression” has not been clearly made “academically or internationally” and that it becomes different depending on from what angle one looks at the matter in the context of relations between countries. His words undermine Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 statement in which he apologized to Asian countries for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression” causing “tremendous damage and suffering” to their people. He should not forget that the Murayama statement played a great role in increasing international trust of Japan.
On April 24, Mr. Abe told the same Diet committee that it is a normal thing to express respect to the souls of dead soldiers who gave their lives for the nation. Referring to China and South Korea’s opposition to the Yasukuni visits by Cabinet members and lawmakers, he went on to say, “My Cabinet members will not bow to whatever threats there may be.” His remarks show that he does not understand at all the ideological function that Yasukuni Shrine fulfilled in the mobilization of the Japanese for war.
Chief Cabinet Minister Yoshihide Suga on May 10 attempted to do damage control by stating that the Abe Cabinet has never denied the history of Japan’s aggression and accepts the Murayama statement. Still, this does not repair the damage that Mr. Abe’s remarks caused to Japan’s standing in the international community.
His remarks and attitude could also damage Japan-U.S. relations. “Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress,” issued on May 1 by the U.S. Congressional Research Service, said in part, “Comments and actions on controversial historical issues by Prime Minister Abe and his Cabinet have raised concern that Tokyo could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests.”
The report said, “Other statements … suggest that Abe embraces a revisionist view of Japanese history that rejects the narrative of imperial Japanese aggression and victimization of other Asians. He has been involved with groups arguing that Japan has been unjustly criticized for its behavior as a colonial and wartime power.”
It also said, “Abe’s selections for his Cabinet appear to reflect these views, as he chose a number of politicians well-known for advocating nationalist, and in some cases ultra-nationalist views.”
Although the report does not represent the U.S. government’s official view, Mr. Abe must realize that he needs to make enormous efforts to put to rest the suspicions that his words have stirred not only among the victims of Japan’s 20th-century aggression in Asia, but also in the capital of its most important ally.