Japan PM stresses global security role in U.S. Congress
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed "deep repentance" in a historic speech given before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on Wednesday over Tokyo's wartime past.
As the first Japanese prime minister to address both U.S. houses of Congress ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War when Japan was defeated, Abe insisted that Japan must not avert its eyes from the suffering of Asian peoples from its wartime behavior, but he stopped short of issuing his own apology, instead upholding statements by his predecessors.
Ahead of the speech, Abe visited Washington's World War II memorial, which honors hundreds of thousands of U.S. nationals, many died at the hands of Japanese forces.
Before his visit to California on Thursday, hundreds of people, many of them Korean Americans and Chinese Americans, protested outside the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco, calling on Abe to apologize for his country's treatment of people from other parts of Asia during World War II.
Observers are not surprised at Abe's consistent reluctance to apologize. Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors, especially China and South Korea, have been strained due to conflicts over historical issues.
"Abe has never directly addressed the problem as an effort to ease the tension, and instead plays down the country's wartime past and demonstrates a revisionist approach toward history," said Lü Yaodong, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
At a White House news conference Tuesday after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, Abe sidestepped a question on whether he would apologize for Japan's actions during World War II.
"I am deeply pained to think about the 'comfort women' who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering as a result of victimization due to human trafficking," he said, adding that his cabinet upholds the Kono Statement.
The statement made in 1993 by then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the involvement of the Imperial Japanese Army in the recruitment of "comfort women."
It was followed by another landmark apology statement by then-premier Tomiichi Murayama in 1995, when he expressed "heartfelt apology" for Japan's colonial rule and wartime aggression.
Liu Jiangyong, vice dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, believes that Abe's attitude may have been inherited from his grandfather Nobusuke Kishi, who was detained as a war crime suspect but was never indicted.
Kishi in 1957 addressed one chamber of the U.S. Congress and did not touch upon Japan's wartime aggression.
Some estimate there were as many as 200,000 "comfort women," a Japanese euphemism for the Korean, Chinese and other Asian women forced to provide sex to Japanese wartime troops.
Abe made no mention of "comfort women," but he made an oblique reference to the controversial issue, saying "armed conflicts have always made women suffer the most."
Abe's speech given at Harvard University on Monday, when he made similar remarks of being "deeply pained" about the victimization of "comfort women," was to test the U.S. response to the Japanese leader's stance on history, said Lü.
Lü believes Abe's Harvard speech was not meant to be an apology and has in fact violated the Kono Statement. "Abe shifted the blame, not saying 'comfort women' but 'human trafficking,' instead of admitting Japan's wartime aggression and its responsibility in forcing [those women into prostitution]," Lü said.
On March 5, South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se raised the dispute with Japan over "comfort women" in a keynote address at a United Nations Human Rights Council forum. Yun also criticized recent remarks by Yoshitaka Sakurada, Japan's senior vice-minister of education, who openly supported moves to review the 1993 apology to former "comfort women."
Also speaking at the news conference Tuesday, Obama said the revised guidelines for U.S. and Japanese defense cooperation will allow Japan to take on a greater role and responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world. He also said that a strong U.S.-Japan alliance should not be seen as a provocation.
In Wednesday's speech, Abe declared Tokyo's emergence as a global security player in the face of China's rising power in Asia. "We now hold high a new banner that is a proactive contribution to peace based on the principle of international cooperation," he said.
Referring to the "state of Asian waters," Abe called for adherence to principles of peaceful negotiation, saying countries must not "use force or coercion to drive their claims."
"The strengthened U.S.-Japan ties should share the responsibility of safeguarding the peace of the Asia-Pacific region, including having a correct view of history. The U.S., as an anti-fascist country in World War II, should not adopt an ambiguous attitude toward wartime history," Lü noted.