Shrine visit unmasks Abe Cabinet’s true sentiments
Shinzo Abe did indeed make history, of sorts, by becoming the first Japanese leader to visit the memorial above the wreckage of the USS Arizona in Hawaii and offering his “sincere and everlasting condolences” to those who died 75 years ago when Japan launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Apparently, both the Japanese prime minister and the incumbent president of the United States, Barack Obama, wanted to give the impression that these former foes are seemingly “transcending recriminatory impulses” and putting behind them their historical enmity.
But does expressing condolences in this way really close the book?
Maybe Americans have bigger hearts than Japan’s close neighbors — so big that sincerity does not matter, and they are willing to ignore Abe’s attempts to wipe away other shameful events from that period of his country’s past.
To many in China and the Republic of Korea, at least, sincerity matters a lot when it comes to Japan’s approach to its wartime past, since they bore the brunt of its savage ambitions.
It may not matter that Abe would probably not have visited Pearl Harbor had Obama not visited Hiroshima and offered condolences to those who died when the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city in 1945.
But it does matter that these reciprocal actions stem not from a genuine desire to learn from the past but rather from their geopolitical need for each other.
That Abe’s trip was not undertaken with sincerity, or driven by any heart-felt repentance, is evident from the visit of his defense minister to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine immediately after she returned to Tokyo from Pearl Harbor.
To Japan’s neighbors, Tomomi Inada’s pilgrimage to the shrine where Class-A World War II war criminals, some directly responsible for Pearl Harbor, are enshrined, unmasks the true feelings of those currently in power in Japan.
There have been calls for Abe to visit Nanjing in China, where the invading Japanese troops massacred hundreds of thousands of Chinese in 1937. But the utilitarian motivation that drove him to Pearl Harbor does not exist here.
Nor would any condolences be welcome, when it is clear from the words and deeds of Abe and his colleagues that any sympathy would not be sincere and simply proffered to practical ends.
Therefore, instead of repeating that useless plea to Abe, or counting on his administration to seek a historic spirit of reconciliation, Beijing and Seoul had better concentrate on readying themselves for a long-term regional landscape featuring a disruptive and emboldened Japan.