Abe upholds Japan’s past remorse over WWII, but no fresh apology

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TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe upheld Japan’s past apologies over its wartime actions as “unshakable” in a statement issued Aug. 14 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, but stopped short of offering a fresh apology of his own.

“The most important message to be conveyed by the statement is that (Japan) will keep its pledge never to wage war again and continue to uphold the rule of law,” Abe said at a press conference, where he read out the statement and explained the rationale behind issuing it.

“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,” the closely watched statement said, referring to Japan’s actions as having caused “immeasurable damage and suffering.”

“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,” it said. “Such position articulated by the previous Cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.”

While Japanese people across generations must “squarely face the past,” Abe also said, “We must not let future generations bear the fate of continuing to apologize” for the war in which they were not directly involved.

Abe’s statement, which was approved by his Cabinet the same day, stuck to previous Japanese government apologies, including the 1995 landmark statement issued by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war.

Asian neighbors that suffered under Japanese militarism kept close tabs on the statement as they were concerned Abe may water down past apologies over Japan’s wartime actions. China and South Korea, in particular, perceive that Japan has not sufficiently atoned for its past atrocities.

China and South Korea have yet to give their official assessment of the statement. The United States, which is keen to ensure peace in Asia, especially for its allies Japan and South Korea, said Aug. 14 it “welcomes” Abe’s expression of remorse for suffering caused by Japan during WWII.

Citing “aggression,” the Abe statement said “we shall abandon colonial rule forever” and “shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.”

In an apparent move not to upset neighboring countries, Abe used key phrases contained in past statements — “apology,” “aggression,” “deep remorse” and “colonial rule.” While the statement said Japan has “deep repentance for the war,” it did not link Japan to “aggression.”

Abe said at the press conference that whether or not Japan’s action constitutes “aggression” should be “left to discussions of historians.”

The premier expressed in the statement his “feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences” for those who died in Japan and abroad.

He also said the world should “never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured.” That appeared to be a reference to what are euphemistically known in Japan as “comfort women” procured to work in wartime brothels for the Imperial Japanese Army.

Looking forward, he highlighted Japan’s postwar path as a peace-loving nation for the past 70 years and vowed Japan will “more than ever before” proactively contribute to peace and prosperity in the world.

After the statement was issued, Taiwan, which was cited in the statement as having suffered due to Japan’s actions during the war, urged the Japanese government to keep examining its wartime aggression and learn a lesson from history.

Indonesia, also mentioned in the same context as Taiwan, said in a press statement issued by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that it “appreciates” the statement by Abe.
Abe’s statement reflected a report presented last week by an advisory panel, referring to Japan’s “aggression” in China before and during the war and its 1910-1945 “colonial rule” of Korea. But the report also cited that there were “some dissenting views” over the term “aggression.”

An English version of the statement was released at the same time.

At his press conference in Oita, southwestern Japan, Murayama criticized the statement, saying expressions used should have been “clearer” and that it was ambiguous as to what Japan is apologizing for.

In the 1995 statement, Murayama said Japan, “following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war…and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.”

The statement goes on to say, “In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.”

Former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also released a statement in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15, 1945. The statement contained similar key phrases such as “aggression,” “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology.”

The statement drew criticism from Japan’s opposition parties, with Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii saying the prime minister failed to offer an apology “in his own words” and describing the content of the statement as “deceptive.”

Following the statement, the Japanese government, through its diplomatic channels, explained the statement to countries including China, South Korea, Britain and the United States.

During talks by phone with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told Kishida he hopes the statement will help Japan in its reconciliation efforts with neighboring countries, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said.

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