Japan must be careful in relations with its neighbors
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech yesterday, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War ( ). Abe expressed “profound grief” for all who perished in World War II and admitted that Japan inflicted “immeasurable damage and suffering” on innocent people during the war and apologized. The prime minister also said that future generations of Japanese should not have to continue apologizing. Japan marks VJ Day, which is euphemistically called the day the Pacific War ended. The Japanese Empire started the Pacific War, which was officially declared as the Great East Asian War, though afterward it became popularly called the Second World War.
Known as a revisionist hawk, Abe expressed the platitude of “deep remorse” for Japan’s role in World War II but no apology like Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama who first offered it on the 50th anniversary in 1995. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Abe’s mentor, did the same on the 60th anniversary in 2005. Is it so difficult for Abe to follow suit?
Koizumi is ultranationalistic. But he knows it was wrong for Japan to annex Korea in 1910, to start aggression against China by instigating the Mukden Incident on Nov. 18, 1931, and to attack Pearl Harbor to begin the Great East Asian War on Dec. 8, 1941. He followed Murayama in offering an apology. As Koizumi’s protege, Abe is an ultranationalist who believes Japan was forced by the United States to join with Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s fascist Italy to fight the Second World War. He doesn’t believe the Rape of Nanking took place before the end of 1937 with an estimated 200,000 noncombatants, including women and children, massacred. Nor does he admit that the Imperial Army drafted thousands of “comfort women.” It’s difficult for him to apologize, of course. It explains why he expressed “deep remorse” but didn’t apologize when he spoke before the U.S. Congress last April.
That is enough to satisfy Uncle Sam, who needs Abe to help contain the People’s Republic of China. Beijing and Seoul will be more than displeased, however. South Korea, colonized by Japan for 35 years until the end of the Great East Asian War, may just raise hell, but the People’s Republic is expected to cancel a planned meeting between Xi Jinping and Abe in Beijing in September.
According to Cheng Guoping, Beijing’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Xi has already officially invited Abe to take part in a series of events to mark the 70th anniversary of victory in China’s War of Resistance, which will start on Sept. 3. Japan presented its instrument of surrender to General Douglas A. MacArthur aboard the USS Missouri on that day 70 years ago to officially end the Pacific War. The Republic of China marks it as Armed Forces Day.
Abe certainly wants to meet and talk with Xi, though he may not like attending all of those events. Japan badly needs to mend fences with the People’s Republic of China. Moreover, another Abe-Xi meeting will boost Abe’s popularity, which dipped following the adoption of two acts that enabled Japan to exercise its right of collective security under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. The acts permit Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to help fight for the American forces when they are under attack by the People’s Liberation Army. Abe is now weighing the pros and cons of attending Beijing’s VJ celebration on Nov. 3, when Xi will witness the largest-ever military parade at Tiananmen Square.
At any rate, Japan can’t afford to irritate either South Korea or the People’s Republic. Abe had offered an apology for what Japan did during those far-off days of the Second World War in his speech. Yet, he also offered defiant suggestions of no apologies for the future generations of Japanese. It will be up to Japan’s neighbor to decide if this is a “glass half full” speech or a “glass half empty” one.