Date
26 March 2017
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he is on a mission to restore Japan’s sense of pride and global stature. Photo: AP
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says he is on a mission to restore Japan’s sense of pride and global stature. Photo: AP

What else is there to say? Japan revives debate over war apology

It has been 70 years since the end of the Pacific war but Japan is still struggling with its aftermath.

Different governments in Tokyo have expressed regret and made restitutions to countries under its wartime occupation but one question remains.

How much more is there to say?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has had to work all year on a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Last month, dozens of people stood in the heat, hoping to win a lottery for a seat to hear two of Japan’s most renowned historians debate as part of a libel suit.

At issue was whether the term “sex slaves” accurately described the women in Japan’s World War II military brothels.

That the subject still draws a crowd after seven decades shows how divided the country still is — and helps to explain why Japan’s statements about the war have swung back and forth over the years to the annoyance of its neighbors.

This year statement, to be released Friday, is unlikely to satisfy Asian countries that have had frosty relations with Japan and want Abe to deliver a full-throated apology like some of his predecessors have done.

Since taking office in late 2012, Abe and his government have repeatedly challenged orthodox versions of war history, particularly over what the Japanese refer to as “comfort women.”

They have revised textbooks at home and requested changes to texts in the US.

Abe has said he is on a mission to restore Japan’s sense of pride and global stature.

In his 70th anniversary statement he will focus on Japan’s accomplishments since the war in building a peaceful, prosperous democracy. He is likely to express remorse for Japan’s actions in the war but it is unclear whether he will explicitly apologize.

South Korea and China are watching closely.

“The sincerity with which perpetrators of the past demonstrate self-reflection is very important to their victims,” China’s ambassador to Japan, Cheng Yonghua, said in July.

“If they are deliberately vague, minimizing or even denying responsibility for their aggression, it’s the equivalent of reopening their victims’ scars and pouring salt in the wound.”

Abe broke with tradition during his war anniversary statement in 2013, omitting a reference to “remorse.”

He also cut the word “involuntary” from his description of the sacrifices made by Japanese soldiers and citizens.

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