Japan’s Atonement for War Not Enough, Ex-Minister Kono Says

Japan has failed to atone sufficiently for its actions in World War II, said a former foreign minister who wrote an apology over the use of wartime “comfort women.”

“They are insufficient,” Yohei Kono, 77, said in an interview in his Tokyo office when asked about the apologies expressed to date by his nation’s officials. “This is because the people who suffered and have extremely painful memories aren’t saying they are sufficient.”

The remarks by Kono, a former senior member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, echo calls by China and South Korea for a clearer expression of responsibility for the deaths of millions in Asia in the 1930s-1940s. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has criticized the “propaganda” he says taints his nation’s image, has seen his efforts to hold summits with China and South Korea rebuffed by their leaders.

Kono, who left parliament in 2009 after serving in posts including deputy prime minister, chief cabinet secretary and president of the LDP, criticized moves by Abe easing limits on Japan’s military and defense industry. He said in the July 22 interview that an election should have been held on Abe’s decision to alter the interpretation of the pacifist constitution.

“Japan needs to keep apologizing, making gestures of contrition and seek a fuller understanding of its shared past with Asia,” said Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Tokyo campus. “The apologies tend to be vague and lack specific references to atrocities and excesses, therefore not addressing the needs of the victims.”

Investigating Grounds

Kono is renowned for a 1993 statement he made as the government’s top spokesman apologizing for the Japanese military’s abuse of women, known as comfort women, during the war. Then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama made what’s regarded as the clearest apology for the war as a whole to date, in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end.

The Abe administration has stoked neighbors’ concerns by investigating the grounds for Kono’s apology, which was based on evidence including testimony of women forced to service in Japan’s military brothels. Abe, 59, also spurred criticism in China and South Korea with a December visit to Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which honors Japanese war dead including Class-A criminals.

Abe has said there is no need to revise either Kono’s or Murayama’s statements.

Park’s Demand

“The Japanese government must make a right and bold decision for the two countries to overcome a painful past,” South Korean President Park Geun Hye said in a televised speech in Seoul earlier this year marking the anniversary of a 1919 uprising against Japanese colonization. “They should stop denying the past and face the truth of history. Otherwise, they will be isolated.”

Park may meet with Tokyo Governor Yoichi Masuzoe tomorrow in Seoul, South Korean presidential spokeswoman Yoo Myung Hee said today. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it’s important to keep communicating closely on various levels.

Japanese and South Korean diplomats held talks yesterday on the comfort women issue in Seoul. The Japanese officials assured their Korean counterparts that the Abe government stands by Kono’s statement, Kyodo news agency reported.

Chinese President Xi Jinping criticized Japan’s wartime aggression in a speech earlier this month, saying that China and the world will not accept efforts by a “minority” to distort history and facts.

Ratings Decline

Public opposition to reinterpreting the constitution to allow the military to defend allies under attack is high. A Jiji survey last week showed support for the cabinet dropping to the lowest level since Abe took power in December 2012.

Kono criticized Abe’s approach, indicating that he should have taken more time to debate the issue and held a referendum.

“If you are to make a policy change as big as changing the shape of a nation, it’s natural that you should go to the people,” Kono said. “To change the ethos of the constitution, you should revise the constitution.”

Temple University’s Kingston said Abe is seen by the public to be contravening constitutional procedures and trampling democratic norms.

The cabinet eased restrictions on arms exports in April as part of Abe’s push to bolster Japan’s military, a move that led to the approval last week of the transfer of missile technology to the U.K. for joint research purposes.

Kono said this decision was wrong and had moral implications for the nation’s business leaders.

“The armaments industry cannot in any way be allowed to have an influence on Japanese politics,” he said. “We cannot become that kind of country.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.