Two former leaders who issued historic apologies for the nation’s past lambasted revisionist attempts to rewrite history on Tuesday, urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to stand by the statements they delivered when they were in office.
In a joint appearance at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono and former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama went on to urge the administration to withdraw its contentious security-related bills from the Diet.
In 1993, Kono issued an apology for Japan’s use of “comfort women,” females forced to work at Japanese wartime brothels, and Murayama in 1995 delivered an apology for Japan’s aggression against other Asian countries and for its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
Many right-leaning politicians have picked over semantics, arguing that private-sector brokers, not the Japanese Imperial military, were the main parties that recruited the victims — thereby playing down the overall responsibility of Japanese authorities.
Kono confronted this, saying the vast majority of the females were forced to work at the brothels against their will, and were typically coerced into the activity through deception and human trafficking.
The denials that the women were coerced have “badly damaged the honor of the Japanese people,” Kono told the reporters who packed the main hall of the press club.
Some people “try to deny what is obvious to everybody, or try to play it down by saying (other countries) have done similar things. I have keenly felt the damage such an attitude has done to the honor of the Japanese people,” Kono said.
They addressed Abe’s dance over the extent of Japan’s responsibility for events in the region early last century. The prime minister had once indicated he might revise or withdraw Kono’s apology, and has additionally said he does not agree with the entirety of Murayama’s war apology.
However, facing criticism at home and abroad, Abe now says he upholds both the Kono and the Murayama statements “as a whole,” while avoiding elaborating further.
Abe plans to issue a statement of his own in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Whether he will express remorse over Japan’s aggression against other Asian nations and its colonial rule of the Korean peninsula has been a focus of public attention.
Murayama said he opposes Abe’s reinterpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense, or the right to use force to aid an ally under attack even if Japan itself is not being attacked.
Kono, meanwhile, urged Abe to withdraw controversial security bills and appealed to him not to try to bulldoze them through the Diet.
Murayama, who was the head of the Social Democratic Party, served as prime minister from June 1994 to January 1996.
Murayama said his main aim in issuing the 1995 statement was not to extend an apology, but to “search our souls over the past history” and explain Japan’s outlook for the future.
“I was determined to quit as prime minister if I could not achieve this, because there would have been no meaning for me to serve as the prime minister” without carrying this out, Murayama said.
His Cabinet was a coalition government of the SDP, the Liberal Democratic Party and the now-defunct New Party Sakigake.
Murayama said all Cabinet members, including those from the LDP, approved his war apology statement and that he “had never expected” that opposition against his and Kono’s statements would be brought up again two decades later.