• Kyodo

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Former House of Representatives speaker Yohei Kono says Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent statement to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II is not convincing enough to help improve Japan’s strained relations with China and South Korea.

“I have to say that (the statement) cannot be a trigger to improve relationships between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea,” he said in a speech Thursday in Osaka.

As chief Cabinet secretary in 1993 Kono delivered a landmark apology to “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the war. The women were mostly from the Korean Peninsula, and other parts of Asia.

Abe issued the statement on Aug. 14, the eve of the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. He upheld Japan’s past apologies over its wartime actions, but failed to offer a fresh apology of his own.

Asian neighbors that suffered under Japanese militarism had kept close tabs on the statement as they were concerned Abe may water down past apologies over Japan’s wartime actions.

The Kono statement acknowledged that the Japanese military was involved in establishing “comfort stations” for Japanese soldiers during the war and apologized to the women, who Kono said were in many cases recruited against their will.

“The most important thing is how to manage relationships with the two neighboring countries — China and South Korea,” the former top government spokesman said.

“(China) appears to be willing to improve its relationship with Japan, but the Japanese government has yet to respond to it,” he said.

The difference in the attitudes of the two countries has led Abe to give up visiting China in early September to attend a ceremony marking the end of World War II, Kono said, adding that it would be hard for China to welcome his visit in the current situation.

On South Korea, Kono said Abe’s statement “touched little” on issues related to that country.

“This shows the Abe administration does not think much of (that country),” he said. “I think South Korea should be feeling chagrined.”

Kono also criticized Abe’s proposed security reforms, which the prime minister has touted as a way to help Japan make a “proactive contribution to peace.”

“It sounds nice. But what is it exactly? Does it mean to protect Japan by strengthening a military alliance?” he said. “People who know the past should be feeling a sense of danger.”

Kono said he believed that the security bills proposed by the Abe government and currently under Diet deliberation were “unconstitutional.”

Last year, Abe’s Cabinet approved reinterpreting the Constitution so Japan’s Self-Defense Forces can defend allies under armed attack even when Japan itself is not directly threatened, marking a departure from its postwar defense posture.

If enacted, the legislation would greatly expand the role of the SDF overseas.

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