Abe’s stance on past to decide Japan’s future
Japanese PrimeMinister Shinzo Abe is expected to include two key words, “apology” and “aggression”, in a speech he will deliver on Aug 14 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end ofWorld War II, Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said onMonday.
The initial draft, expressing Japan’s deep remorse over the war, and highlighting how it became a pacifist country in the postwar era and its future contribution to the international community, reportedly did not include the word “apology”.
Indeed, a genuine apology should come from the bottom of one’s heart, which is unlikely in Abe’s case even if he apologizes to the countries that suffered under Japanese invasion and occupation before and during WWII, including China and the then undivided Korea. But still, the Japanese leader deserves some credit if he finally agrees to do the right thing.
Former Japanese prime minister TomiichiMurayama rendered a sincere “apology” for Japan’s “aggression” in his landmark statement in 1995. In 2005, Junichiro Koizumi, then prime minister, repeated the statement while addressing the 2005 Asian-African Summit.
On the other hand, Abe has not only avoided apologizing for Japanese atrocities, but also tried to whitewash Japan’s shameful past. Just four months ago at the 2015 Asian-African Summit in Jakarta, he promised to express “deep remorse” for what his country did in Asia before and during WWII, but stopped short of offering a “heartfelt apology” for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression”. He did the same thing while delivering a speech at a joint meeting of the US Congress in April.
Contrary to Abe’s reiteration, the term “deep remorse” is ambiguous and expressing it does not necessarily mean he will reflect upon the wars that Japan waged on its neighbors. Many Japanese right-wingers, including Abe, believe Japan was defeated in WWII because of the then government’s arrogance that made it challenge, not befriend, the almighty US.
The fact is, however, China’sWar of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) dealt the final blow to the imperial
Japan. With regard to his speech inWashington in April, whether Abe was expressing “deep remorse” over Japan’s sudden attack on PearlHarbor in 1941 or its full-scale invasion of China in 1937, remains unclear. Hopefully, his Aug 14 speech will make that clear.
Abe’s apology, if he does render one, will be of great historical significance to all countries that suffered Japanese aggression. In its absence, China and other Asian countries will remain alert to Abe’s moves, such as efforts to remilitarize Japan using the pretext of the US-Japan alliance and his new security bills, which could trigger an arms race in East Asia and destabilize the region.
Cooperation will benefit China and Japan both, while confrontation will have the opposite effect. This is most evident in bilateral trade, which reached $312 billion in 2014 — about 21 percent of Japan’s total foreign trade and 7.5 percent of China’s. If tensions are not defused, both countries will suffer, only that Japan will suffer more because it will become even more difficult for it to narrow the huge trade deficit with China. Official figures show that at the beginning of last year, more than 54 percent of the Japanese enterprises operating in China were willing to expand their businesses. Yet declining Japanese investment in China — it dropped by more than 38 percent year-on-year in 2014 — presents a different picture.
Apparently, the inherent political uncertainties in ChinaJapan relations have played a role in shrinking economic exchanges. These uncertainties can only be removed if Abe sincerely apologizes for Japan’s militarist past. The answer will be known in a day. The author is a professor of Japanese studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.