A plan for the first-ever visit to Hiroshima by a sitting U.S. president was expected to draw a mixed reaction in the region, where China and South Korea have accused Japan of glossing over its actions in World War II and playing up its own victimhood.
Seoul’s reaction Wednesday was muted: “We understand that it was arranged under President Obama’s vision for peace and safety through a world free of nuclear weapons,” a Foreign Ministry official said, according to the Yonhap news agency.
China’s Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday said Japan is “using Hiroshima to whitewash its crimes instead of truly reflecting on its wartime past.”
Some analysts said this feeling is shared on the Korean Peninsula. “A lot of Koreans . . . might be angry at both the U.S. and Japan for what they see as spotlighting Japanese victimhood,” said Jennifer Lind, a professor of government at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “In their view, Tokyo should be doing more to remember the violence it inflicted on others.”
Skillful footwork by Obama, however, could meet such concerns and even help end the bickering, said history professor Alexis Dudden of the University of Connecticut.
“Obama’s visit to Hiroshima may defuse its history’s political use,” Dudden said. “His visit — if done with the true leadership such history demands — has the potential to deflate those in Japan who use it as the cornerstone of the ‘Japan as victim’ argument. The survivors of Hiroshima were the victims of the American bombing, not Japan.”
Meanwhile, one observer urged Obama in Hiroshima to note concerns in the region over nuclear-armed Beijing and Pyongyang.
“His call for a nuclear-free world will seem tone deaf,” said Michael Auslin of the American Enterprise Institute. “Asia is concerned about how Washington will deal with a more assertive China and a nuclear North Korea, not with an unrealistic aspiration to rid the world of nuclear weapons.”