Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II is expected to improve relations with China, according to a ruling party official known for his efforts to revive Asian ties.
“We have been building something and no one expects a statement that will destroy it,” Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party’s general council, said in an interview in Tokyo. “If you think of Japan’s position in international society, Prime Minister Abe bears great responsibility. We think he will release an admirable statement.”
Nikai, 76, led a 3,000-strong delegation of lawmakers, officials and representatives of the tourism industry to China last month, the latest sign of improving relations between Asia’s two largest economies. During the visit he met with President Xi Jinping and delivered a personal missive from Abe to the Chinese leader.
Abe is preparing to issue a new statement to mark the August anniversary, and has said he will not reiterate the wording of previous prime ministers that detailed Japan’s past aggression and colonial rule in Asia. If Abe’s statement fails to satisfy China, it could undermine the nascent recovery in ties and jeopardize further summits between Abe and Xi.
Nikai said he would not offer Abe any advice on the phrasing of the statement.
“It should not be a statement that rolls back the statements that have been made in the past — the prime ministers’ statements that successive Cabinets have upheld,” said former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on Tuesday. Kono issued a 1993 apology over the Imperial Japanese Army’s use of the wartime “comfort women” — the tens of thousands of females who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the war.
While trade and tourism have rebounded since a territorial dispute dragged relations to their lowest in decades from 2012 to 2013, ships and planes from both countries continue to tail one another around the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by China and Taiwan.
Ties have also been strained by Abe’s efforts to boost defense and ease the pacifist constraints of the war-renouncing Constitution.
Signs of a thaw became apparent in November when Xi agreed to meet Abe briefly on the sidelines of an international conference in Beijing. That was followed by a second meeting in Jakarta in April.
Xi made a speech at a friendship event attended by Nikai’s delegation in May, in which he said the two countries’ relationship “deserves cherishing and protecting.”
Sitting by a large tapestry of the Great Wall in his office, Nikai said he was moved by Xi’s friendly stance and determined that Japan should make more effort, such as by inviting Chinese students to visit Japan.
“The top leader of the country said we should get along together, so we will take that seriously,” he said. “In fact, after that the finance ministers met, so results are gradually emerging.” Finance Minister Taro Aso met his counterpart, Lou Jiwei, last Saturday.
Japan should involve the U.S. in its efforts to smooth over disagreements with China and make sure the tensions don’t lead to conflict, Nikai said.
“We need to work together,” he said. “The U.S. also wants to avoid war above all. So politics must include efforts to avoid anything stupid like fighting or war.”
Nikai also said that there is no need for Japan to make a hasty decision on joining the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Both the U.S. and Japan have so far kept their distance from the fledgling organization.
“There’s no need to rush and make a fuss as if we’ve missed the bus at this point,” he said. “If Japan is to join, we will have ideas and conditions,” he added. “It’s fine to be cautious.”