At a year-opening news conference yesterday, he sought to reassure the world he would not veer from past official statements on Japan’s wartime responsibility. Many analysts have speculated that Mr Abe, known for his nationalist views, might downplay Japan’s responsibility for the war in a move that would upset relations with China and South Korea.
“The Abe cabinet will uphold the general stance on history of successive prime ministers, including the Murayama statement,” he said, referring to a 1995 apology made by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end.
He said the government would draft a new statement “that includes Japan’s remorse for the war”, though he stopped short of saying it would again apologise.
Mr Abe spoke in the city of Ise, after visiting an important Shinto shrine there.
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His statement is expected to be issued around 15 August – the anniversary of the end of the war. It still poisons relations in Asia, particularly between Japan and nearby China and South Korea, both victims of Japan’s wartime aggression.
The tenor of the events and specific words chosen by leaders in each country will have implications for Japan’s still strained relations with its neighbours.
That prospect worries the US government, which fears more tensions at a time when China’s emergence as a military power is shifting the power balance in a region where the American military has long dominated the seas.
The liberal Asahi newspaper devoted a recent editorial to the statement, saying Mr Abe needs to face up to Japan’s war responsibility. “If … Japan starts talking about the future without seriously facing up to its past, countries that suffered from Japan’s wartime behaviour could start wondering if the Japanese are saying, ‘Let’s forget the past’,” it wrote.
While Mr Abe may not revise the Murayama statement, he can still undermine it, Koichi Nakano, a contemporary politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, said. “There has been growing concern that Abe might try to effectively overwrite the Murayama statement with the Abe statement,” he said.
Emperor Akihito, in his New Year message, stressed the need to remember the past. “So many people lost their lives in this war,” he said. “I think it is most important for us to take this opportunity to study and learn from the history of this war, starting with the Manchurian Incident of 1931, as we consider the future direction of our country.”
The proof, Beijing says, will lie in Japan’s actions.
“We hope Japan can match its words, honestly facing up to its history of aggression, abide by all the solemn statements and promises it has made on the issue of history,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said yesterday.
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