Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed “deep repentance” over Japan’s role in World War II in a speech to the US Congress Wednesday.
At the same time, he declared Tokyo’s emergence as a global security player in the face of China’s rising power, Reuters reported.
Abe insisted that Japan must not avert its eyes from the suffering of Asian peoples from its wartime behavior but stopped short of issuing his own apology, instead upholding statements by his predecessors.
He did offer a new rhetorical twist when he spoke of his visit to Washington’s World War II memorial, saying: “With deep repentance in my heart, I stood there in silent prayers.”
But he stuck mostly to his past language, expressing “deep remorse” for Japan’s wartime conduct and saying he upheld previous Japanese apologies, including a 1995 landmark statement by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama.
Abe’s comments on Japan’s war record drew criticism from some US lawmakers, who had hoped he would go further, and were unlikely to satisfy critics in South Korea and China, where he is accused of trying to whitewash history.
But the conservative prime minister chose to focus his landmark speech more on the future of the US-Japan military alliance and press skeptical US lawmakers to back a Pacific trade pact.
“We now hold high a new banner that is a ‘proactive contribution to peace based on the principle of international cooperation’,” Abe said a day after he and US President Barack Obama cemented new guidelines for Japan’s military to support US forces beyond its waters.
Abe has proposed reforms to Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution to make this possible.
Receiving a warm welcome reflecting Japan’s status as America’s staunchest Asian ally, Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress, sent a stern message to China, which is locked in maritime disputes with Tokyo and other Asian neighbors.
Though Abe did not mention China by name, he spoke of the “state of Asian waters”, saying countries must not “use force or coercion to drive their claims.”
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