Survivors of the 1937 Nanjing Massacre Xia Shuqin (left) and Chen Guixiang (right) attend an assembly marking the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in Nanjing on August 15 (XINHUA)
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a troubling statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War II (WWII) during a press conference at his office in Tokyo on August 14. Its wording had been approved by the cabinet and echoes the Japanese Government's official stance in the past. This statement has drawn domestic and international attention and some of the remarks have shed light on how Abe views Japan's history of aggression.
When he took office for the second time in December 2012, Abe made clear that he would deliver a new statement on historical issues to replace previous statements made by former Japanese leaders, including Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's in 1995, in which he apologized for Japan's aggression and colonial rule.
In the last three years, Abe has demonstrated his historical revisionist views on many occasions. Firstly, he questioned Japan's role as an aggressor during WWII by arguing that there was no universal definition of the term "aggression." Secondly, he raised doubts about the legitimacy of the trials conducted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (1946-48), also known as the Tokyo Trials, which led to the conviction of Japan's Class-A war criminals. Thirdly, he denied that the Japanese Imperial Army forced women, the so-called "comfort women," into sex slavery during the war. Such opinions challenge the universal understanding of WWII and defy moral judgment.
Abe was aware that he would face international criticism had he boldly displayed his revisionist views in the planned statement to mark the occasion. Under huge international and domestic pressure, he ultimately compromised his stance by adding the following sentence in the statement—"Such position (remorse and apology) articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future."
Protesters hold banners at the gate of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, on August 15 (XINHUA)
Not biting the bullet
But the key problem is that Abe did not offer any formal apology of his own. Moreover, he tried to put an end to the apologies that previous Japanese governments had made. His actual words were: "We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize."
The statement implies that those countries which suffered from Japan's aggression in the past, such as China and South Korea, have been pestering the country for an apology. But the fact is none of those countries gave Japan a hard time until the 1980s, when Japan took a right turn and deviated from the pacifism which had prevailed the country after the end of WWII.
Japanese politicians have been determined to revive Japan as a world power. However, instead of reflecting upon the country's history of aggression and colonial rule to ease its neighbors' worries, they have tried to pursue the goal by embellishing the country's contribution to world peace. At the same time, some of the Japanese politicians have never stopped holding revisionist views. They have visited the Yasukuni Shrine where Japan's Class-A war criminals are enshrined, and tried to conceal the truth regarding their country's aggression and invasion in history textbooks. Speeches and remarks denying Japan's aggression are often delivered publicly by some right-wing politicians and scholars in an attempt to mislead Japanese people about the history of their country.
Some prominent politicians in Japan either in or out of office, such as prime ministers, cabinet members or senior officials, are the leading figures of this right-wing revisionist vanguard. Their speeches and behaviors have not only harmed the feelings of people whose nations have bitterly endured Japan's aggression in the past, but also raised suspicions over Japan's future.
Filipino women protest in Manila on August 14, demanding that the Japanese Government apologize and make compensation for the country's wartime atrocities during WWII (XINHUA)
Right in the wrong
As Japan's pacifism is overshadowed by revisionism, the country's prime ministers' remarks on historical issues have become a prerequisite for rebuilding political trust with China and South Korea. Therefore, the crux of the matter lies with the wrongdoing of Japanese right-wing political forces. If the Japanese Government keeps glossing over its past aggression and continues its revisionist actions, a distorted understanding of history will be passed down to future generations.
As for civilians in countries that suffered from Japan's aggression, Abe said quite casually that "numerous innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food."
Abe shied away from mentioning the brutal massacres and other war crimes committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war. He didn't even allude to the Nanjing Massacre in China, the death camps in Southeast Asia or comfort women, but rather emphasized on casualties on the Japanese soil, such as the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He hinted that Japan was in fact a major victim during the war.
Furthermore in his statement, Abe deliberately mixed up two concepts—aggression and solving international conflicts through force—or rather, equated the two. For instance, he advised to "never again resort to any form of threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes," as if he were a committed pacifist. Under the cover of the so-called "proactive pacifism," Abe downplayed Japan's role as an aggressor in WWII.
In his statement, Abe trumpeted Japan's post-war peaceful development and values of freedom and democracy rather than offering an official apology for Japan's aggression in the past. As a matter of fact, Abe and his ruling coalition recently approved controversial security bills in the Lower House of the Diet despite strong opposition at home and abroad, undermining the pacifist constitution and leading Japan to the road of war.
Abe's statement did not help mend broken ties with the victims of the Japanese aggression, but on the contrary, has further widened the gap between Japan and its neighboring countries.
The author is an associate research fellow with China Institute of International Studies
Copyedited by Jacques Fourrier
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