The Asahi Shimbun
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Monday sought to repair damaged relations with Asian nations by expressing Japan’s heartfelt apologies for causing “tremendous damage and suffering” through its colonial domination and past military aggression.
The statement, which was timed to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, covered many of the basic points addressed 10 years ago by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
Koizumi’s statement for the first time made direct reference to China and South Korea. It calls for their cooperation in seeking to maintain regional peace and development.
Koizumi’s past visits to war-related Yasukuni Shrine sent relations with China and South Korea spiraling to their lowest ebb.
Government officials clearly hoped that the statement, along with Koizumi’s decision not to visit Yasukuni on or around Aug. 15, would help to mend the chilly ties with Japan’s Asian neighbors.
Because of the sensitivity of those relations, work on the statement’s wording continued until just before its release, according to sources.
Yasukuni is not the only issue that has bedeviled relations with China and South Korea. Issues related to perceptions of history and textbooks approved by the government that critics say whitewash Japan’s military aggression have also played a major role.Monday’s statement touched on Murayama’s address in 1995 marking the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Koizumi did the same when he addressed the Asia-Africa Conference in Indonesia in April.It says in part: “Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility. And along with expressing once again feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology, we also express our sincere feelings of condolence to all the victims of the last war both in Japan and abroad.”
The statement also touched on Japan’s path as a pacifist nation in the postwar era and emphasized the importance of a future-oriented outlook to achieve regional security and development based on mutual understanding and trust.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda explained the significance of the latest statement at his regular morning news conference Monday.
“The latest statement is a reconfirmation of the government’s thinking until now on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II,” Hosoda said. “Therefore, it is similar to the Murayama statement (of 1995) as well as the Bandung (Indonesia) speech by Koizumi.”
Whether the statement helps to improve ties with China and South Korea will depend greatly on how Koizumi acts in the future.
While Asian nations welcomed Murayama’s apology 10 years ago, they have become more distrustful of Japan in the interim partly due to verbal gaffes by Cabinet ministers. But it is the issue of Koizumi’s repeated visits to Yasukuni, more than any other, that has derailed Japan’s relations with its neighbors.
Yasukuni is controversial because 14 Class-A war criminals are memorialized there along with the nation’s war dead.Koizumi also appeared to hope to get political mileage out of Monday’s statement in connection with the Sept. 11 Lower House election.
Koizumi has vowed to make postal privatization the focus of the election and stressed he would not make his Yasukuni visits an issue in the campaign. Having said that, Koizumi needed to clarify his basic stance on Asian diplomacy in the runup to voting.
The statement also includes wording that Koizumi has used in the past to justify his visits to Yasukuni.
The statement begins with the wording, “On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, I believe once again that the peace and prosperity that we now enjoy are due to the precious sacrifices made by many individuals who reluctantly gave their lives in the war. I also have a new resolve to never again take our nation down the path of war.”(IHT/Asahi: August 15,2005)