Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Wall Street Journal, of all publications, reprimands Abe

Abe at Ise Shrine January 5, 2015
Abe’s New Year Resolution
Honesty about World War II will bolster Japan’s standing in Asia.

The Wall Street Journal, Editorial
January 8, 2015

East Asia would benefit from improved relations between Japan and South Korea, the region’s U.S.-allied liberal democracies. So it’s good to hear Japanese leader Shinzo Abe resolve that, in marking the 70th anniversary of Tokyo’s World War II surrender later this year, he won’t again whitewash the history of Imperial Japanese aggression.

Debates over World War II still influence Asian politics to a degree that Americans and Europeans find hard to understand. Though Japan has been a pacifist democracy for more than six decades, many of its neighbors condemn it for failing to admit its sins from the first half of the 20th century.

The charge is largely cynical coming from Chinese officials who downplay their own atrocities during the Great Leap Forward or Cultural Revolution. But the dynamic with South Korea is more complex.

South Koreans know that in recent decades Japanese leaders have repeatedly apologized for the past. In 1993 Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono expressed Tokyo’s “sincere apologies and remorse” for the Imperial Army’s conscription of Korean women as sex slaves, or “comfort women.” In 1995 Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expressed “deep remorse” and “sincere apology” that “through its colonial rule and aggression [Japan] caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries.” In 2005 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi repeated these words.

Several Japanese Prime Ministers have also apologized directly to South Korean Presidents for the colonization of Korea and abuse of comfort women. One apology, in 2010, came with the return of 1,200 volumes of Korean royal records looted during colonization.

The problem is that some Japanese politicians and groups promote textbooks that omit wartime atrocities, or insist that the Rape of Nanjing never happened. Mr. Abe, whose grandfather sat in Tojo’s wartime cabinet before serving as a pro-American postwar Prime Minister, sometimes joins this revisionist chorus. He has criticized “masochistic” textbooks, quibbled over the definition of “aggression” and flirted with withdrawing the Kono Statement, which he once said “put dishonor on the back of Japan.” In 2013 he visited Tokyo’s Yasakuni Shrine, which includes 14 class-A war criminals among its honored dead.

All this causes fury in South Korea, where President Park Geun-hye has refused to meet Mr. Abe unless he can “break away from denial of the past.” Chinese officials have been all too happy to embrace Ms. Park and play up Mr. Abe’s diplomatic isolation.

Hence the significance of Mr. Abe’s promise this week to prepare a statement for the Aug. 15 surrender anniversary that will illustrate “Japan’s remorse over the war, its postwar history as a pacifist nation and how it will contribute to the Asia-Pacific region and the world.” He added that his government “has and will uphold statements issued by past Administrations.”

Perhaps nothing Mr. Abe could say would soothe relations with Beijing, where leaders appear committed to stoking anti-Japan nationalism to boost their own legitimacy. As of last year, China’s official calendar includes three new holidays commemorating the Sino-Japanese war.

But with Seoul, Mr. Abe could make real progress. Last month Japan and South Korea agreed for the first time to share intelligence on North Korea through a trilateral arrangement including the United States. A similar deal that didn’t include the U.S. fell apart in 2012 amid popular uproar in South Korea.

Most South Koreans still view Japan negatively, but advances at the official level should be possible given the high stakes in nuclear proliferation, missile defense and cyberwarfare. U.S. involvement will be crucial, but the onus is on Mr. Abe to make good on his pledge to mute Tokyo’s revisionism. Doing so would bolster Japan’s standing in East Asia.

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