A key advisory panel to Shinzo Abe published its report Thursday on Japan’s modern history and postwar reconciliation, strongly criticizing the wartime “aggression” against other Asian countries but touching little on recent controversies over what is widely regarded as the prime minister’s revisionist moves.
Abe has said he will use the report as a reference in drawing up his statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, which is reportedly to be issued on Aug. 14.
Whether he will use some of the same key phases as his predecessors, including “aggression” and “deep remorse” over Japan’s wars and colonial rule in the 1930s and ’40s, has been a focus of international attention.
The panel of 16 members — drawn from academia and the business world with Abe’s approval — was asked to analyze Japan’s postwar history, its reconciliation processes with former enemy countries and what specific measures Japan should take this year to mark the 70th anniversary of its surrender at the war’s end.
“After the (1931) Manchurian Incident, Japan expanded its aggression against the (Chinese) continent, deviated from the post-World War I shift toward self-determination, outlawry of war and democratization, and emphasis on economic development,” the report says.
Japan “caused much harm to various countries, largely in Asia, through a reckless war. In China in particular, this created many victims across wide areas,” said the panel headed by Taizo Nishimuro, a former Toshiba Corp. president and current president and CEO of Japan Post Holdings Co.
“(Japan) acted counter to the tide of self-determination. Colonial rule became particularly harsh from the second half of the late 1930s,” the report states.
The panel released the report in both Japanese and English.
Many right-leaning politicians, apparently including Abe himself, are reluctant to describe Japan’s advance into China in the 1930s and ’40s as “aggression,” a word indicating violation of international law.
They maintain there was no clear definition of “aggression” under international law at that time, and that Japan alone should not be singled out for condemnation since many Western powers had earlier invaded and colonized numerous other nations without drawing the same level of criticism as Japan in the postwar period.
In April last year, Abe caused a stir by saying he does not uphold all of the 1995 landmark apology issued by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and argued that what is described as aggression “can be viewed differently” depending on which side one is on.
Facing criticism at home and abroad, Abe later said he upholds the Murayama statement “as a whole,” and has stopped discussing his views on “aggression” in public.
The Murayama statement apologized in a clear and straight-forward manner for Japan causing “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries” through “its colonial rule and aggression.” Whether Abe will use this same language in his statement has been a focus of attention in Japan and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the panel largely avoided addressing recent politically sensitive issues in Japan, most notably Abe’s apparent revisionist moves.
In December 2013, he enraged China and South Korea by visiting the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine. He also caused grave concern among international society by indicating he would revise two of Japan’s key apology statements.
These are the Murayama statement and the apology by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993 to former “comfort women,” who were forced to work at wartime Japanese military brothels.
Under fire, Abe later said he upholds both statements.
Thursday’s report does not mention any of these controversies involving Abe.
“We asked the panel to review the entirety of the 70-year postwar period. (Reviewing Abe’s stance on history) is not something we asked them to discuss,” a senior government official said.
The panel concluded that Japan has largely managed to achieve postwar reconciliation with the United States, Australia and European countries, although Japan has yet to fully reconcile with some war victims, in particular former prisoners of war of those countries.
Japan also has yet to achieve full reconciliation with China and South Korea, partly because of China’s nationalistic education and emotional reactions among South Korean people, according to the panel.
The panel’s recommendations for Japan to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end include:
Promoting modern history education and research to deepen people’s understanding of history.
Stepping up efforts to support the international order, including reform of the United Nations, reduction of poverty and promotion of disarmament and dialogue between nations.
Contributing to peace and development by strengthening the Japan-U.S. military alliance, and maintain and promote free trade.
The 16 members of the panel include Shinichi Kitaoka, president of International University of Japan, deputy chairman of the panel.
Kitaoka was also a key member of another panel last year that recommended Abe reinterpret the pacifist Constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under attack even when Japan itself is not.
This is one reason he is considered a close Abe adviser.
After submitting the report to Abe, Kitaoka told a news conference that the panel is “not in a position to comment on the words and actions of Mr. Abe.”
Nor is it the role of the panel to urge Abe to include an apology in his 70th anniversary statement, he said.
According to Kitaoka, the panel was mainly interested in how Japan started its wars in the 1930s and ’40s and how it later reconciled with its former enemies. Taking up the recent controversies involving Abe “would deviate from the assignments” given to the panel, he said.
The panel also includes Takao Yamada, a senior staff writer at the liberal Mainichi Shimbun, and Keiko Iizuka, the U.S. bureau chief for the conservative Yomiuri Shimbun.
Other members are Masayuki Yamauchi, a professor at Meiji University and a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, Yukio Okamoto, a former Foreign Ministry official, and Masashi Nishihara, president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security.
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