Tokyo has again been forced into damage control over issues of history as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks on Japan’s wartime aggression Tuesday triggered big headlines in South Korea.
“Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the fact of aggression itself in answering a question in the Upper House on April 23,” read a translated article posted Wednesday on the Japanese-language website of the major South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
The Chosun Ilbo quoted experts as saying Abe may have “denied” Japan waged a war of aggression to shed its “reputation as war criminal country” and thereby rearm and become a country “that can wage a war” again.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide stressed Wednesday that the policy of regarding South Korea and China as key partners is unchanged, saying he believes only “fragmentary parts” of Abe’s remarks were reported.
“We don’t want (history issues) to affect our entire bilateral relationships” with China and South Korea, Suga told a news conference. “Our policy to strengthen our bilateral relationships has not changed at all.”
On Tuesday during an Upper House session, Abe was asked to comment on the 1995 statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who straightforwardly apologized for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression,” which “caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries.”
Abe didn’t elaborate, but he did claim that the definition of “aggression” in general has yet to be “firmly determined” by academic experts or the international community.
What is described as aggression “can be viewed differently” depending on which side you’re on, Abe said.
Major South Korean newspapers slammed Abe on their front pages Wednesday, adding to the strain over Sunday’s visit by Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and scores of other lawmakers to war-related Yasukuni Shrine.
Murayama’s statement, which has been officially endorsed by every Cabinet since, including Abe’s own, has been regarded as a key apology for Japan’s wartime aggression in other parts of Asia as well as its colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula.
Three Cabinet ministers and 168 other Diet members have visited Yasukuni Shrine in the past few days, enraging China and South Korea.
The visits drew flak from the Japanese media as well, as Japan needs close cooperation from China and South Korea to deal with North Korea’s belligerence.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se canceled a meeting with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida planned for later this week, and a three-way summit with South Korea and China in May is expected to be canceled or postponed.