Abe ex­presses ‘re­morse’ over WWII, avoids apol­ogy


Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe ex­pressed “deep re­morse” Wed­nes­day for Ja­pan’s World War II ag­gres­sion at a sum­mit at­tended by Asian lead­ers, but stopped short of re­peat­ing pre­vi­ous apolo­gies in a move that risks an­ger­ing Bei­jing and Seoul.

How­ever there were also signs of a thaw with main­land China, with Abe and Chi­nese main­land leader Xi Jin­ping shak­ing hands as the sum­mit in In­done­sia got un­der way and a Tokyo of­fi­cial say­ing that the ground was be­ing laid for the pair to meet on the side­lines.

A new meet­ing would be a sig­nif­i­cant step to­wards eas­ing lon­grun­ning ten­sions over Tokyo’s wartime past and putes.

The lead­ers have only met once be­fore, at a sum­mit in Novem­ber last year in main­land China, where they shared an awk­ward hand­shake, but have never had a for­mal sit-down.

The speech by Abe, a stri­dent na­tion­al­ist, at the Asia-Africa Sum­mit in Jakarta was be­ing closely watched for clues about a state­ment he is due to make later this year mark­ing the 70th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II.

Ob­servers are wait­ing to see whether he will make di­rect ref­er­ence to his coun­try’s “colo­nial rule and ag­gres­sion” and ex­press “re­morse” and apol­o­gize, as pre­vi­ous premiers did on the 50th and 60th

ter­ri­to­rial dis- an­niver­saries.

He sug­gested in a TV in­ter­view this week he will not re­peat a for­mal apol­ogy in that state­ment.

For main­land China and South Korea, which suf­fered un­der the yoke of Ja­pan’s im­pe­rial am­bi­tion, Abe’s lan­guage is a cru­cial marker of Tokyo’s ac­cep­tance of guilt for its march across Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, which left mil­lions dead.

At the start of the two-day sum­mit Wed­nes­day, which com­mem­o­rates a key con­fer­ence 60 years ago that helped emerg­ing na­tions forge a com­mon iden­tity, he of­fered weaker re­marks than pre­vi­ous Ja­panese lead­ers — po­ten­tially a bad omen for the close­ly­watched state­ment later this year.

Re­fer­ring to prin­ci­ples of peace laid down at the orig­i­nal con­fer­ence, he told del­e­gates: “And Ja­pan, with feel­ings of deep re­morse over the past war, made a pledge to re­main a na­tion al­ways ad­her­ing to those very prin­ci­ples through­out, no mat­ter what the cir­cum­stances.”

The weak state­ment is par­tic­u­larly no­table as then Ja­panese prime min­is­ter Ju­nichiro Koizumi of­fered a “heart­felt apol­ogy” and re­ferred to “colo­nial rule and ag­gres­sion” at an Asia-Africa sum­mit in Jakarta in 2005, echo­ing lan­guage in a land­mark 1995 state­ment.

Abe also made a veiled attack at China over on­go­ing mar­itime dis­putes: “We should never al­low to go unchecked the use of force by the might­ier to twist the weaker around.”

Ter­ri­to­rial Ten­sions

Bei­jing and Tokyo are at odds over the sovereignty of un­in­hab­ited is­lands in the East China Sea, which Ja­pan ad­min­is­ters and calls the Senkakus but which the main­land claims as the Diaoyus.

The main­land is also locked in ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes in the South China Sea with sev­eral coun­tries, and ten­sions are par­tic­u­larly high with the Philip­pines.

Xi, speak­ing prior to Abe at the gath­er­ing, made no men­tion of re­gional ten­sions but called for a “fair” global fi­nan­cial sys­tem, as Bei­jing in­creas­ingly wins sup­port for its new re­gional devel­op­ment bank in the face of U.S. op­po­si­tion.

At­ten­tion will again fo­cus on Abe’s choice of words about the war when he heads to the United States this week­end on a week­long trip, dur­ing which he will ad­dress a joint ses­sion of congress.

Abe’s Jakarta speech was just his lat­est move that risks in­flam­ing re­gional ten­sions — it came af­ter he this week sent an of­fer­ing to the con­tro­ver­sial Ya­sukuni Shrine in Tokyo, the sup­posed repos­i­tory of the coun­try’s war dead in­clud­ing 14 in­fa­mous war crim­i­nals.

And on Wed­nes­day, more than 100 Ja­panese law­mak­ers vis­ited the shrine, which China and South Korea view as a sym­bol of Ja­pan’s un­will­ing­ness to re­pent for ag­gres­sive war­ring, drawing a swift re­buke from Seoul, which ex­pressed “deep dis­ap­point­ment and re­gret.”

But de­spite Abe’s no­table fail­ure to of­fer up a full apol­ogy at the sum­mit, there were in­di­ca­tions of warm­ing ties be­tween Xi and Abe with the hand­shake and mount­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of a meet­ing.

Asked whether Xi and Abe would meet, Ja­pan’s Chief Cabi­net Sec­re­tary Yoshi­hide Suga told re­porters in Tokyo: “I hope we will have such an op­por­tu­nity at some point to­day.

“I have re­ceived a re­port that they are mak­ing the fi­nal ar­range­ments, but it hasn’t been de­cided yet where and when to hold the meet­ing.”

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