WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s handling of wartime historical issues will be closely watched on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II later this year, a recent U.S. congressional report said.
“International audiences will be watching closely on how Abe handles the upcoming commemorations,” the U.S. Congressional Research Service report said, apparently reflecting general concern in Washington about fresh tension between Japan and its neighbors.
With the anniversary approaching in August “there is likely to be increased attention to the historical issues that have dogged Japan’s relationship with its neighbors,” said the report, titled “Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress” and dated Tuesday.
On Abe’s New Year’s remark last week that he intends to alter the usual apology script but express “remorse” for Japan’s past military aggressions in a statement on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied forces, the report said it has set off “speculation in the region that the planned document may stop short of a forthright apology.”
In 1995, on the 50th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama clearly apologized for Japan’s wartime aggression in other Asian countries before and during the war.
A decade later, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also made the apology.
“To many U.S. observers, Abe brings both positive and negative qualities to the alliance, at once bolstering it but also renewing historical animosities that could disturb the regional security environment,” the report said.
Abe has said his government will inherit the overall concept of Japan’s position on the war from successive governments, including the Murayama statement and the 1993 apology issued by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to the “comfort women,” the mostly Korean females forced to provide sex to Imperial Japanese troops in military brothels before and during the war.
But Abe stirred a controversy after he suggested in the Diet in 2013 that what constitutes an “invasion” depends on the point of view of individual countries, and asked a government panel last year to review how the Kono statement was compiled, undermining it.
The U.S. congressional report, compiled by five researchers, also mentioned a possible delay in relocating a U.S. Marine Corps base in Okinawa Prefecture.
Referring to the stinging rebuke Abe’s party received in the snap election in December, the report said “their combined resistance could delay progress and send a strong political signal.”