What Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may say this summer in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has already become a politically charged subject of speculation.
A private advisory panel to Abe tasked to discuss the issue held its first meeting on Wednesday. But Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga says the panel’s discussions are not aimed at drafting the text but rather fielding broad opinions as the government weighs the content of the statement — an indication that the views of the panel members may not necessarily be reflected in the text. Abe appears determined to take the lead in setting the tone of the statement.
It will be a statement issued in the prime minister’s name, but at the same time, the anniversary statement — just like the 1995 statement by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama — will be considered the government’s official position on Japan’s responsibility for its wars in the 1930s and ’40s.
Successive administrations have said the Murayama statement, released to mark the 50th year after the end of the war, serves as the foundation of Japan’s diplomacy, especially in its relations with its Asian neighbors. Changing the core messages in the text could be taken as an indication that Japan’s current government is altering its perception of history.
Abe triggered political jitters on the issue when he told an NHK-TV program in late January that he might not adhere to the Murayama statement when he issues the 70th war anniversary statement.
He said he wants to avoid the “nitpicking” of what words would be omitted or inserted compared to the 1995 text. He also said his statement would highlight Japan’s postwar path as a pacifist country and its ambitions for the future.
Speculation concentrates on whether Abe will repeat the Murayama statement’s unambiguous apology for Japan’s colonial rule and wartime aggression against its Asian neighbors. Abe earlier said his administration does not necessarily inherit the Murayama statement as is and noted that the definition of “war of aggression” is not established “either in academic or international terms.” He later modified his position and says that his government endorses the 1995 statement “as a whole” — which could be interpreted to mean he does not accept each expression used in its text.
The 1995 statement was adopted through a Cabinet decision when Murayama, then leader of the Social Democratic Party of Japan, headed the coalition government with the Liberal Democratic Party. In the statement, Murayama said Japan had caused “tremendous damage and suffering” to the people of Asia and other countries through its colonial rule and wartime aggression, for which he expressed “deep remorse and heartfelt apology.” This position was repeated 10 years later when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued his statement to mark the 60th year since the war’s end.
The issue could turn into another source of tension in Japan’s soured relationship with China and South Korea. Beijing appears ready to use the war anniversary year as a diplomatic tool against Japan. During an open debate Monday at the United Nations Security Council to mark the 70th year after WWII, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned against attempts to “whitewash past crimes of aggression” — without naming Japan — by saying that “although the historical facts have long been made clear on the war against fascism, there are still some who are reluctant to recognize the truth and even attempt to overturn the verdict.”
Changing or omitting core parts of the 1995 text in Abe’s statement this summer would no doubt give more ammunition to such accusations.
Attending the first meeting of the advisory panel, Abe reportedly said the foundation for the future is not detached from the past, noting that Japan’s future “will be built on its remorse for the past war and its path as a pacifist nation over the 70 years after the war.”
If he believes that, the prime minister should not flinch from the nation’s wartime past in the upcoming statement.
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