National / Politics

Suga rushes to smother LDP's latest brush fire over war

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga was again forced to go into damage control mode Monday after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s own policy chief said on NHK the previous day that President Shinzo Abe disagreed with the findings of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

The tribunal, officially called the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, was held in 1946 to try Japan’s political and military leaders for war crimes after Japan’s surrender in World War II. The tribunal found Tokyo guilty of waging wars of aggression upon China and other countries during its bid to colonize Asia.

Suga brushed aside the controversial remarks made by policy chief Sanae Takaichi as her “private opinions.” During a Sunday debate program on NHK, Takaichi had said she believes Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has “different opinions” about the war from the viewpoint of the Tribunal.

At a news conference Monday, Suga said that Abe’s Cabinet, like its precedessors, accepts the judgement of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and that Takaichi’s remarks were her private views.

“The prime minister has also clearly accepted (the Tribunal’s ruling),” Suga said.

The government’s top spokesman also repeated that the Abe Cabinet upholds the unequivocal 1995 war apology issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

“The government’s view has already been made clear,” he said.

On NHK, Takaichi, a well-known rightwing conservative, questioned the Murayama statement, widely regarded as Japan’s official apology for the war and its attempts to colonize Asia.

Murayama said Japan followed “a mistaken national policy” and “advanced along the road to war.”

But Takaichi argued that Japan could have been turned into “a colony” because its access to natural resources was blocked at the time. She didn’t elaborate, but was apparently discussing why Japan decided to go to war against the United States and other Western countries.

Suga, apparently worried about diplomatic repercussions from Takaichi’s remarks, talked to her by phone Monday afternoon and explained the government’s stance on history issues.

Later in the day, a senior political official urged the government and the LDP, which is enjoying high support ratings, to keep a low profile on history issues because the Upper House election is drawing near.

Many conservative lawmakers argue that Japan waged wars of self-defense, not aggression, during the 1930s and 40s and refuse to accept the ruling of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Abe himself created a scene late last month by arguing that the definition of the word “aggression” has not been firmly established either by academics or the international community.

On Friday, Suga made it clear that Abe’s Cabinet upholds the Murayama statement in its entirety, including the admission that Japan waged wars of aggression.