BEIJING – China has warned it will keep a beady eye on the Abe administration’s words and deeds concerning historical issues next year, which will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
During a meeting in Beijing, Yu Zhengsheng, the No. 4 ranking member of China’s Communist Party, told former chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, once a senior member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, that any improvement in bilateral ties hinges largely on the actions of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government, a Kono aide said.
“Next year is the 70th anniversary and there will be a series of events in China. Chinese people are closely watching what kind of attitude Japan will take on historical issues,” Yu was quoted as telling Kono, who in 1993 issued the landmark state apology acknowledging that females euphemistically called “comfort women” were rounded up to serve as unwilling sex slaves in wartime brothels run by the Imperial Japanese military.
The meeting between Kono and Yu, who sits at China’s apex of power as one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, was held at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People at a time when bilateral friction has eased, albeit marginally, after escalating alarmingly since 2012 over the Senkaku Islands dispute and divergent interpretations of history.
Despite being in office since December 2012, Abe held his first formal face-to-face talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping only about a month ago on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing. But the countries’ at times polar opposite views of wartime history, particularly the Imperial Japanese military’s ferocious invasion of and vicious colonial rule over wide swaths of Asia in the last century, including parts of China, remain a major obstacle to improving ties between Asia’s top two economies.
Beijing will be keeping an especially close watch on Abe, who scored a landslide victory in last Sunday’s general election, when he releases a statement next summer to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war.
In line with Xi’s first address at the Nanjing Massacre museum on Dec. 13 — the eve of the Lower House election — to mark the 77th anniversary of the Japanese atrocity, Yu was quoted by an aide as telling Kono, “What we have been criticizing is Japan’s militarists, not the people of Japan.”
Yu, who chairs the Communist Party’s top political advisory body, told Kono that Beijing has exercised a consistent policy of trying to build closer ties with Tokyo and that Xi’s address epitomized China’s stance on history, the aide said.
At the massacre memorial ceremony, which inaugurated the anniversary as a national day of remembrance for the first time, Xi said: “We should not bear hatred against an entire nation just because a small minority of militarists launched aggressive wars. The responsibility for war crimes lies with a few militarists, but not the people.
“Forgetting history is a betrayal and denying a crime is to repeat it,” Xi added.
Kono, 77, also served as foreign minister and held other key posts during a long career as a Lower House member before retiring from politics in 2009. He was one of the most dovish lawmakers in the LDP, which has lurched to the right under Abe’s stewardship since 2012, and he headed an association promoting trade and friendship between the China and Japan.
At the outset of the meeting, which was open to the press and arranged at the invitation of the Chinese Institute of Foreign Affairs, a government-affiliated entity, Yu praised Kono for issuing his famous 1993 apology as then-chief Cabinet secretary over the comfort women, saying that his statement, along with a 1995 document penned by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, “left Chinese people (with) a deep impression.”
The Kono Statement, issued some 48 years after the end of the war, offered Japan’s first formal acknowledgement of the Imperial military’s involvement in setting up a network of brothels and its coercion of females to provide sex to Japanese troops throughout Asia before and during World War II. It also extended the Japanese government’s “sincere apologies” to the women forced to work in such “comfort stations,” as they are known in Japan, and expressed determination to learn from history so as not to repeat similar atrocities.
Earlier this year, a review conducted by Abe’s government of the process by which the Kono statement was created, which was supposed to be kept secret by both sides, was seen by critics both in Japan and overseas as an attempt to undermine the statement, if not a partial bid to rewrite history.
China and South Korea, which both suffered under Japan’s brutal colonial rule, have been at odds with Abe’s government, which they view as lacking repentance for wartime atrocities committed by Japanese troops.