Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit Tuesday to Pearl Harbor, where he paid tribute at the USS Arizona Memorial alongside U.S. President Barack Obama, may indeed serve to highlight the reconciliation between World War II enemies that have evolved into close allies and economic partners in the 75 years since the deadly attack by Japanese forces ignited the fierce war in the Pacific. It should also serve to remind us of the need for full reconciliation with Japan's Asian neighbors that suffered from its past aggression and colonial rule — a goal that remains elusive seven decades after the war. That may not be easily achieved, but we must keep trying.
Abe became the first sitting leader of Japan to visit the memorial dedicated to victims of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack, although three other prime ministers — Shigeru Yoshida, Ichiro Hatoyama and Nobusuke Kishi, Abe's grandfather — visited Pearl Harbor in the 1950s before the memorial was erected. Abe was reciprocating Obama's visit to Hiroshima in May, the first by a sitting U.S. president to the city devastated by the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing. The tribute that Abe and Obama paid together at the Pearl Harbor memorial — with Abe likely to be the last foreign leader to meet with Obama before his eight-year presidency draws to an end next month — was also apparently aimed at demonstrating the deepening security alliance with the U.S. to the incoming administration of Donald Trump, whose views on the value of America's relations with Japan remain unclear.
Given the close relations between Japan and the U.S. today, these acts by the top leaders of the two countries may have had only symbolic meaning in confirming the status quo. Despite the sensitivities that lingered on both sides over the historic visits, including the questions asked as to whether the two leaders should offer apologies — which they did not — and whether the 1941 attack and the 1945 atomic bombings were justified, the mutual visits were more an indication of how far the two nations have come since the war, rather than acts in pursuit of reconciliation for their past enmity. Abe may be justified in stating that the former enemies "have become allies with deep and strong ties."