Abe Draws Line Under Past Apologies for Japan’s Wartime Actions

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Shinzo Abe
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gestures as he answers questions following his war anniversary statement in Tokyo on Friday, Aug. 14. Photographer: Toru Yamanaka/AFP via Getty Images

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan inflicted “immeasurable damage and suffering” during World War II, while adding that the nation shouldn’t be expected to continually apologize for a conflict that ended 70 years ago.

“We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize,” Abe said in a statement to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender. “Even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past.”

Abe’s message comes a day before the country commemorates the end of the bloody conflict whose scars continue to dog Japan’s relations with South Korea and China, where many say Japan hasn’t done enough to atone for its militarism. He stopped short of making a personal apology, risking a nascent thaw in ties with Japan’s two-biggest Asian trading partners.

“This will be good enough to keep the thaw with South Korea and China moving forward, however unsteadily, but the Abe statement will not mean the end of the ‘history wars’ in Northeast Asia,” Tobias Harris, a political risk analyst, with Teneo Intelligence, said in an e-mail.

The grandson of a wartime cabinet minister, Abe sought to balance the need for better regional relations with the wishes of nationalist backers, who say Japan should not have to apologize indefinitely.

“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,” he said. “In order to manifest such feelings through concrete actions, we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbors.”

‘Colonial Rule’

Abe said that Japan must never again resort to any form of threat or force and that the country had abandoned colonial rule for ever, citing a key phrase from statements by former prime ministers Tomiichi Murayama in 1995 and Junichiro Koizumi in 2005.

The governments of South Korea and China will parse the statement to gauge the level of contrition. They have repeatedly raised concerns that the Abe government was seeking to whitewash Japan’s militant past.

“Japanese, across future generations, must squarely face the history of the past,” Abe said “We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.”

Abe had repeatedly said he would upheld previous prime ministers’ apologies, but saw no need to reiterate them. His speeches have often focused on Japan’s positive contributions to the region since the war, and on his plans for the nation to take a more pro-active security stance.

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