Abe WWII Statement Adviser Criticizes Focus on Japanese RIsabel Reynolds
As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prepares a new statement to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat, there is excessive focus on replicating past apologies for Japan’s actions, said the deputy head of the advisory panel on the statement.
Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan, is part of a group of academics, journalists and businessmen charged with providing reference material for Abe to draft the new statement, which follows on from declarations on the 50th and 60th anniversaries.
Failure to incorporate terms like “aggression” and “colonial rule” in the statement on a key anniversary would risk irritating China and South Korea, where widespread bitterness over Japan’s past militarism has soured relations. Abe has hinted he will avoid such descriptions, and focus on Japan’s postwar contributions to peace and future plans.
“The media are focused on whether particular words are included or not, but I think how we look back at the past as a whole is important,” Shinichi Kitaoka, president of the International University of Japan, told a symposium in Tokyo on Friday. The media focus on terms like “remorse” is strange, he added.
In a 1995 statement, then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said Japan “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.” Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi used similar phrasing in his own statement a decade later.
Japan occupied Korea for 35 years before its defeat at the end of World War II, a conflict that killed over 30 million people including more than 20 million Chinese. China and Korea accuse Abe of playing down Japan’s responsibility for the conflict and for atrocities committed by the Imperial Army such as the killing of Chinese civilians after the capture of Nanking and the use of women as sex slaves for the troops.
Abe, whose grandfather was a cabinet member in Japan’s wartime government, has declined to comment on whether he upholds all the references in previous Japanese war apologies, saying only that he upholds them “as a whole.”
Abe gave his advisory panel a list of topics for discussion, which do not specifically include Japan’s wartime actions, instead emphasizing Japan’s efforts at postwar reconciliation and what kind of future it should carve out.
Kitaoka said Japan needs to build a new narrative of its history, covering more than just the period before 1945.
“As a historian, I don’t believe you can reach a full understanding by picking out only one part of history,” he said. The panel should look more broadly at the 20th century and “how the world changed, the role Japan played or where it went wrong,” he said.
Another speaker at the symposium warned that the sometimes conflicting messages over Japan’s attitude to history were complicating Abe’s attempts to take a bolder stance in foreign and security policy.
“Japan’s war history continues to affect the narrative surrounding Japan’s diplomatic initiatives,” said Edward Schwarck, Asia studies research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “This matters. Narratives matter. The story that a country tells about itself affects how other countries interpret its actions.”