Sidestepping History of Invasion Won’t Win Abe International Credibility

As Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke to the U.S. Congress, he did not offer an apology for [his nation’s] history of invasion, nor did he mention the issue of comfort women. Abe’s equivocation about Japan’s war crimes and failure to face up to its history of invasion will not win him credibility among the international community or make walking the path of reconciliation and cooperation with neighboring nations any easier. At the same time, Abe’s emphasis on consolidating the alliance between the United States and Japan and strengthening U.S.-Japanese military collaboration is even more cause to worry for people all around the globe, as Japan moving a step closer to casting off the restraints of its peaceful constitution represents a hidden threat to the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region, and indeed the world.

As the first Japanese prime minister to speak before a joint session of the U.S. Congress, Abe became the focus of attention for the international community. In his speech, he only claimed that Japan set out once more on its path after the end of World War II bearing a “deep remorse,” and with “profound respect” offered his condolences to those Americans who died during the war. However, Abe did not issue an official apology for the Japanese militarism that caused terrible calamity and the suffering of the infamous comfort women among the peoples of Asia, demonstrating that the Japanese leader continues to ignore calls from all sides to face up to Japan’s past belligerence.

It has been 70 years since the end of World War II, and Abe should be adhering to the Murayama Statement’s posture and promise to face up to, reflect upon and acknowledge that history of aggression, as well as issue an apology to gain the trust of the international community and build trust for conflict resolution with neighboring nations. Instead, however, Abe has chosen to obstinately downplay Japan’s guilt and dodge the issue of war crimes, and his lack of courage in that regard has been met with criticism from the international community and the public. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement pointing to the tilted view of history within Abe’s speech and expressing its “deep regret” that the Japanese prime minister did not give a sincere apology for his nation’s historical legacy. Ethnically Japanese U.S. Representative Mike Honda was highly critical of Abe for not bringing up the topic of comfort women, calling it “shocking and shameful.”

The U.K. paper, the Financial Times, further pointed out that Abe’s speech was almost entirely absent of any suggestion of a need to feel remorse for Japan’s wartime actions.

Within the speech, the prime minister also declared that revised U.S.-Japanese Defense Cooperation Guidelines and broader freedom for Japanese military operations overseas would support the U.S. “Asian rebalance” strategy, claiming the consolidation of the U.S.-Japan alliance to be a personal responsibility. This must necessarily put many nations, both in Asia and around the world, on their guard. The U.S.-Japan alliance is a product of the Cold War, and by bolstering that alliance, Abe is seeking to ride the coattails of a U.S. “Asian rebalance” strategy that centers upon military cooperation to ease the restrictions of Japan’s peaceful constitution and forge Japan into a new military power. The deleterious effects of such a course to Asian and world peace and stability cannot be ignored, and may very well come back to bite the United States itself. Just as suggested by The Wall Street Journal, Abe’s constant efforts to broaden the scope of Japanese military operations will not only harm the peoples of nations victimized by Japanese militarism, but will also only spell more trouble for U.S. foreign policy.

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  1. You want to dwell on things that happened 70 years ago. But today Japan is faced with almost daily military threats from China over the Senkaku Islands. That is the reason Japan is building up its own military power and alliances. China is acting like Putin’s Russia — bully your neighbors and then complain bitterly when they take defensive measures against you.

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