Abe using overseas trips to test waters in preparation for WWII 70th anniversary statement



Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is promoting Japan as a postwar peace-builder as he tests the waters for a statement marking the 70th anniversary of its World War II defeat that risks irritating China and South Korea.

Japan has taken an “unwavering path” of peace since the war, Abe said in Cairo on Saturday in his first overseas speech of the year — a year set to be overshadowed by history. In India, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida talked of Japan’s plans to contribute to global security.

Abe has said he upholds previous statements of contrition on the 50th and 60th war anniversaries and will make a new declaration in August. Shifting the focus to the postwar period may provoke anger from Asian neighbors just months after Abe held his first summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and as the two nations restart maritime talks.

Territorial disputes and disagreements over Japan’s occupation of large parts of Asia in the first half of the 20th century have caused fractious ties with China and South Korea. Sources of tension include the facts “comfort women” who were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II and the nature and size of the 1937 Nanking Massacre by the Imperial Japanese Army.

Overseas trips are “an effective opportunity for the Japanese government to send a unified message about what kind of country Japan aspires to be, which will surely be reflected in the statement Abe will issue this August,” said Yuki Tatsumi, senior associate of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center in Washington.

Deteriorating relations not only raise the risk of confrontation in their territorial spats but threaten to hamper trade between three of Asia’s biggest economies. Total trade between Japan and its two neighbors reached almost $440 billion in 2013. Japan is China’s biggest Asian trading partner and South Korea’s second-largest after China.

Japan’s views of its past may be more controversial than its aspirations for the future. The Abe administration’s campaign to combat accusations over its wartime record have included asking publisher McGraw-Hill to change a reference to comfort women in a U.S. textbook, top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Monday.

“If he really cares about his country, Abe should make an apology to all for its past actions, make it sincere and show that sincerity through his words and deeds,” the China Daily newspaper said in a commentary published Monday.

Cai Hong, the paper’s Tokyo bureau chief, accused Abe of “distorting history” and “whitewashing” Japan’s past atrocities in Asia.

Hong was writing in response to a Jan. 14 report in the Mainichi Shimbun that Abe may visit Pearl Harbor this year to pay his respects to those killed in Japan’s 1941 attack on the U.S. naval base. Suga last week rejected the report.

“Since the end of the Second World War, Japan has concentrated earnestly on building a nation that values freedom and democracy, human rights, and the rule of law,” Kishida said in his New Delhi speech Saturday. The war anniversary will be one of the main themes of his trip to India and Europe, according to Foreign Ministry documents.

“You have to accept the consequences of the statement to be made by the prime minister,” Hitoshi Tanaka, senior fellow at the Japan Center for International Exchange in Tokyo and a former diplomat, told reporters Friday. “If it’s interpreted as changing the basic content of Prime Minister (Tomiichi) Murayama’s statement, that will have a negative impact.”

In the 1995 statement, Murayama offered an apology for a “mistaken national policy” and “colonial rule and aggression” that caused “tremendous damage and suffering.”

A survey published by the Mainichi on Monday found 50 percent of respondents said Japan should uphold the Murayama statement, while 34 percent said there was no need to do so. The newspaper polled 1,012 people on Saturday and Sunday.

Katsuya Okada, who returned to the helm of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan on Sunday, said in a Jan. 7 interview that he was concerned Abe would skate over such details in his new statement.

“Mr. Abe has never clearly admitted the colonial rule and aggression parts,” Okada said. “His stance is that he upholds them as a whole, so I am paying close attention to his thinking.”

  • Stephen Kent

    That’s it, Abe! That thing you’re doing in those photos – go and do exactly the same thing in Nanjing and Seoul and see what happens! I bet things would be easier for you diplomatically and your job would get a bit easier.

    • Obviously, it’s much more easier and cheaper to talk about the sins of the others (like the Germans) than one’s own.

    • nobu

      That’s what I thought.

      But — leave alone what Abe really has on his mind — even he himself wishes to do so, that’s definitely enough to cause backfire from Japanese nationalists back home.

      FYI, ex-PM Juichirō Koizumi actually did exactly the same thing in 2001 in the war museum in Beijing, where the 2nd Sino-Japanese War (1937) broke out, although the relations between the two countries didn’t seem to get better at all. Oh, that’s because of his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, I think.

      • Stephen Kent

        I had no idea Koizumi visited that museum in Beijing, thanks for the information. You’re right, it does seem that he annoyed the Chinese government by going to visit Yasukuni soon after, which they considered to have nullified his visit to the museum.

        The nationalists are a problem, yeah, but aren’t they a relatively small minority? Most polls coming out in the papers these days seem to suggest the majority of people in Japan don’t back nationalistic policies such as revising the constitution or overturning past apologies.

      • Oliver Mackie

        “it does seem that he annoyed the Chinese government by going to visit Yasukuni soon after, which they considered to have nullified his visit to the museum.”

        That’s because the Chinese government doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a leader in a democracy, thus being quite immature in its approach to the realpolitik world of international relations. The South Koreans are almost as bad, because they have only recently stopped being a military dictatorship.

      • Stephen Kent

        You’re right, realpolitik is a factor, but I think that more than the Chinese government’s lack of democratic experience, if anything it is the domestic forces in Japan (i.e. the small but vociferous minority of ultra-nationalists) that are highly ideologised and fail to take into account practical considerations. It would benefit the economy of Japan if prime ministers would stop provoking China with shrine visits, investigations into past apologies, retractions, and that sort of thing… but I feel the fact that they don’t reflects that they really are out of touch with their voters and that they themselves are more interested in ideological and moral issues than practical economic issues (which is what the majority of voters in Japan are concerned about). I remember hearing an interview somewhere with a Japanese businessman in China who was lamenting the actions of prime ministers, saying that Japanese businesses in China spend years building up relations with the cities and local communities around them, but then with one visit to a shrine all this hard work is instantly undone because of the sentiment it provokes.

      • Oliver Mackie

        And why are such relationships ‘undone’ by a visit to Yasukuni? Because the Chinese leadership allows it (wants it?) that way. Of most countries, China has a leadership which is able to block, downplay, or highly spin any news that comes out of Japan. Indeed, reliable polling shows that the vast majority of Chinese don’t give a XXXX about the Yasukuni visits or the Senkaku islands, so the leadership has no real reason to bow to public pressure, as it doesn’t really exist. (Please look at recent posts here by KenjiAd, a Japanese who teaches at a Chinese university for a clearer picture on the ground.)

        Japan’s ultra right-wing are nothing in the scheme of things here. If significant individuals in the government are objecting to what they see as mis-represented or imbalanced descriptions of history, or wish to reduce what they see as the promotion of masochism among among the youth by the way history is represented in schools, then they stay in power because opposing views either do not number enough or the electorate places greater priority on other issues.

        In the official diplomatic relations between the two countries it is ALL about realpolitik, as much as we ordinary folk might wish such areas to be based on a more principled approach.

      • Stephen Kent

        Oh undoubtedly the CCP will take all the ammo it can get from Japanese politicians and spin the situation to look as bad as possible in the state controlled media, yet despite knowing this and knowing that it can have actual adverse physical and economic effects on Japanese businesses in China and thus on the Japanese economy itself (i.e. the main concern of the voting public), prime ministers continuously go to visit a place that enshrines war criminals. The reason they do this can only be that they themselves see nothing wrong with honouring class A war criminals as national heroes, thus suggesting to anyone watching that they are highly nationalistic and aligned with the people who invaded China, so I would have to respectfully disagree with your assertion that the ultra right-wing are nothing in Japan as they occupy positions at the very top of the government and have the power to influnence foreign policy as well as foreign relations. For example, Midori Matsushima was recently photographed with members of the zaitokukai (which can’t have pleased Korea), and who could forget good old Shintaro Ishihara – he was the one who caused the Senkaku issue to flare up again when he tried to purchase the islands as part of Tokyo, then after retiring he admitted that all he wanted to do was “fight a war with China and win”! Unbelievable, and quite worrying given the influence he had.

        The right wingers stay in power here because the opposition is a total shambles, and the Abe government is totally cashing in on this while Abe attempts to portray support for his economic measures as support for his pet project of trying to change the constitution. The public doesn’t really support this, as numerous polls have shown, but he stays in power by capitalising on the lack of opposition and by courting rural voters whose votes are sometimes worth six times those of urban voters.

        About what you said regarding the attitude of Chinese students towards issues such as Yasukuni and the Senkakus; it’s interesting because I’ve got a Chinese friend here who says her Dad in the north of China gets really wound up about the actions of the Japanese government, but she herself doesn’t care that much. I suppose there are many dynamics at play such as generational differences and group consensus vs. individual opinion when it comes down to it, but I recommend the final chapter of The Opium Wars by Julia Lovell if you are interested about the youth of China’s ambivalence towards the recent past. It’s something the CCP are always trying to harness and control through education and the media as you suggested.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Well, there’s do much there to oppose that I almost don’t know where to begin. You are rehashing so many incorrect assertions typically made by people who are either naive or malicious racists who can’t see reality. I don’t want to get personal, so I will assume you are the former. But I simply don’t have the energy to go through it word by word. Suffice to start with the following:

        1. You’re assertion that Abe is ultra righist would not be agreed with by any of the informed observers of Japan, by which I mean those who are intellectually rigorous, speak and read the language, and have sufficient experience as observers. They would agree on this, regardless of their judgements on his policies etc. Hell, most of them wouldn’t even describe him as particularly rightist. And I don’t mean in only a Japanese context.

        2. Your image of Yasukuni as a place where people go to ‘worship’ those who are
        enshrined there shows great ignorance about the nature of religious belief in Japan and the function of Yasukuni in particular.

        I could go on and on but I don’t see the point. But don’t worry, no need to change your view anyway: ignorance, simplification, and dichotomizing are much less mentally taxing than dealing with facts, objective thought, and putting aside inclinations based on neither, and you’ll certainly find plenty of people who share your ‘thinking.’

      • Stephen Kent

        I’m not sure why you’ve tried to make it look like I used the word ‘worship’ incorrectly since it doesn’t appear in what I wrote. Maybe you imagined it.

        You say you don’t want to get personal but then contradict yourself by writing fairly inflammatory comments suggesting I am ill-informed, naive, and unable to think objectively or deal with facts, which makes me think I am dealing with a person who, for whatever reason, is spoiling for a fight. I try to base my participation in Internet discussions on respect for others and their opinions, and I do not wish to talk with people who merely want to fight, insult people, or attempt to show off their intelligence (be it real or imagined) so I will leave the discussion here. Goodbye.

      • Oliver Mackie

        Note: I have used capitals in place of italics as I am unable to use the latter. Thus any bold print should be taken not as shouting but rather emphasizing key words.

        “You say you don’t want to get personal but then contradict yourself by writing fairly inflammatory comments suggesting I am ill-informed, naive, and unable to think objectively or deal with facts, which makes me think I am dealing with a person who, for whatever reason, is spoiling for a fight.”

        I didn’t suggest that you were ill-informed/naive (the same thing) and unable to think objectively or deal with facts, I STATED quite clearly that you are either naive, which is the kind assumption based on what you wrote (and what you write is all that matters in this format of discussion), or that you were a malicious racist. Now, people don’t like to be called naive. I know from personal experience. One professor once slated a post-grad paper I put a lot of work into as “naive” and I bristled for several weeks. As the professor clearly showed me however, the point about naivety though is that it is objectively demonstrable: does the person know about certain facts or previous informed commentary or don’t they? Being naive isn’t a personal flaw, but jumping into debates with provocative comments when one hasn’t previously consulted all the facts or previous commentary, is.

        How can I be so sure that you are either naive or malicious? It’s quite simple. the ‘conclusions’ you have come to are impossible to reach UNLESS you are either naive or malicious. Let’s take your Yasukuni comments (note, you were correct in my mis-quoting of you as using the term “worship” as being a memory lapse. The point still stands though. See below.) You wrote (emphasis added):

        “….prime ministers CONTINUOUSLY go to visit a place that enshrines WAR CRIMINALS. The reason they do this can ONLY be that they themselves see NOTHING wrong with HONOURING class A war criminals as national HEROES….”

        Why continuously? Do they go there every day? Every week? Did you actually mean “repeatedly”? Again what does this mean? Is visiting to pray something that one does once only and never again? Or is it a regular thing? How regular is the norm? How often have various PMs been visiting Yasukuni? How often do the millions of non-politician visitors go there? What do you mean that Yasukuni is a place that “enshrines war criminals”? Is that its sole purpose? How many people are enshrined there in total? How many ‘war criminals’? Of what rank? What are the attitudes among the Japanese at large towards the credibility of the judgments passed at the post-war ‘trials’? What are the basic criteria by which people can or cannot be enshrined at Yasukuni? Does enshrinement make them ‘heroes’? In general, what does it mean in Japan to pay a visit and pray at a shrine? What does it mean to ‘honour’ something in the sense that you use it? Do shrines in Japan honour things? If so, what shrines do you know and who or what do they honour? If not, why is Yasukuni unique? What does it mean when a Prime Minister of Japan visits a place? Can (s)he do so in a private capacity? Or is it always in a public capacity? If the PM is ‘honouring…..war criminals…as national heroes” are all visitors who pray at the shrine doing the same? Does it matter of the Prime Minister’s own ancestors are enshrined at Yasukuni? How do you know that the act of doing something means that the individual doing it sees “NOTHING wrong” with it? If the Prime Minister doesn’t pay a visit to a place where millions of non-‘war criminals’ are enshrined, what does this mean to the descendants of such people? How might this be relevant in a democracy?

        Have you asked yourself even 10% of these questions? If so, please give us your answers.

        On the same matter, you also wrote that the above occurs:

        “despite…..knowing that it can have actual adverse physical and economic effects on Japanese businesses in China and thus on the Japanese economy itself”

        What do you really know about the balance between economic and other considerations that go into the bilateral relationship? Let’s test it out. Let me quote you some sections written by a very prominent American expert on Japanese and Chinese affairs. He is someone who has such a mastery of Japanese that he can participate fully in all debates in Japan about whatever aspect may be necessary, can look at all original sources for himself, and has been doing so since at the early 1960s. The quoted sections are about issues which I am sure you are aware have been the cause of ‘friction’ between Japan and some of its Asian neighbours recently:

        “the question of…whether or not Japanese should feel guilty…[was] about to be reawakened…….The controversy conditioned and accompanied a sharp turn in Japanese political leadership……a change….to the verbally activist government…….It also signaled that recriminations about the past will continue to be manipulated by all the nations of the area. Much more was to come before the end of the summer was over, including charges the The Ministry of Education had deleted from the texts the number of casualties in the Japanese “Rape of Nanking”, that it had ordered the Korean independence struggle of 1919 to be characterized as a “riot,” and that it had in general sought to “prettify atrocities”….Japanese Foreign Ministry officials declared the whole incident to have been the worst since normalization and to have set back friendly Sino-Japanese relations by at least ten years….The Chinese press lambasted a “handful of rightists” in Japan, who were allegedly trying to revive militarism, and the Chinese government twice rejected official Japanese explanations….In his speech to the Party Congress [the Chinese Premier] dwelt on the dangers of revived Japanese militarism….the Premier advised [the visiting LDP General Secretary] “to limit its military capability to its defensive needs.” Needless to say, the facts that China maintains the world’s largest standing army [and] has developed and deployed thermonuclear weapons…were not mentioned…in the Chinese press….The screening of textbooks by the Japanese government has a long and checkered history….The real background to this controversy is the decades-long dispute between the….Japan teachers’ Union and the Liberal Democratic Party’s conservative education-policy specialists over the political content of educational materials…..Although the Japanese press published its first revelations [about textbook revisions] on June 26, no newspaper or government official in China took up the issue politically until July 20. That was the day on which the LDP’s Special Council for International Economic Policy…arrived in Taipei….The Sino-American negotiations over American arms sales to Taiwan were then at their most delicate stage…and this evidence that Japan was improving its economic ties with Taiwan clearly ran counter to Beijing’s strategy. Furthermore [the Chinese Premier] was fighting off internal attacks from party and military rivals who were trying to embarrass him over his U.S. policy and the Taiwan issue….He could not appear soft on anything having to do with Taiwan, and also needed a diversionary issue. It thus seems doubtful that the Chinese government was truly interested in Japanese textbooks, but there an be no doubt that it found in the textbook controversy a convenient lever to try to bring the Japanese government to heel…”

        The author naturally also feels compelled to comment on the Senkaku islands:

        “China’s final ploy was a carrot-and-stick maneuver offering remarkable economic gains if Japan agreed….or endless territorial hassles over places like the Senkaku islands if Japan refused.”

        Let us leave aside whether either of us has enough depth of knowledge to judge in order to agree with or challenge the author’s assertions, and simply note that we recognize the events referred to. It then comes as quite an eye-opener to find out that all of this was written 20 YEARS AGO, about events 30-35 YEARS AGO. Suddenly the importance of having a good knowledge of the prior history of current events becomes very clear, and hence also the foolishness of commenting when one doesn’t have that knowledge. Context is everything.

        Let’s leave the topic or being informed or ignorant/naive, and move on to behaviour on discussion boards. You wrote:

        “I try to base my participation in Internet discussions on respect for others and their opinions….”

        That’s laudible. However, if you are so given to showing respect for others then how about extending some to the subject of your commentary:

        “the ultra right-wing…….occupy positions at the very top of the government…”

        You are quite openly stating that the Prime Minister in an ultra rightest. Not a far rightest. Not an extreme rightest. An ULTRA rightest.
        Just think about what you have written there. As is normally used, the term can only mean someone who is virulently racist and sexist, prepared to use or sanction the use of violence, and anti-democratic. Is that really what you wanted to say? I point out again, that not a single informed commentator, however much they approve or disapprove of his polices, would agree with you even closely. But, maybe they’re all wrong. Maybe you have privileged access to information that no-one else does. If you do, you owe it to to us all to reveal it.

        Just to tackle one aspect of your outlandish assertion: have you read the Prime Minister’s own words (written long before he became even close to being Prime Minister) on what it means to be Japanese? Try it, you may be surprised. I’ll bet one thing: I bet if you know anything about him, you know who his grandfather was, whilst at the same time knowing nothing about his father. Don’t worry. You have plenty of company. But to seasoned observers that type of thing is the first mark of a certain type of people who do not yet have enough knowledge to be taken seriously.

        I have written elsewhere on Ishihara, my posts are available. You are again way off the mark both on what he actually does, rather than says (anyone can, and those from the arts invariably do, generate self-publicity by making outrageous comments, particularly when there is zero chance they will have the opportunity to follow up on them with concrete action), and about how powerful he was. Do you know in fact when he was at his most powerful politically (context again)? Way, way before he became Mayor of Tokyo.

        I could go on, but think I have written more than sufficient, all in the name of demonstrating no, not my superior intelligence, but the fact that I dedicate my time to immersing myself in a topic before even contemplating making an assertive contribution to the discussion. Indeed, it may have escaped your attention but I have actually made no assertions at all. I still don’t feel ready to do so. I DO feel ready to discourage naive others from doing so. Usually by gentle questioning and prodding. Occasionally (like today) with a dressing down.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Is this intended to be ironic? An “unwavering path” has rather obviously wavered this week, and the consequences are all over the T.V. And “a nation that values freedom and democracy, human rights and and the rule of law”? Please excuse my guffaw.