Sunday, June 18, 2017

Japan's Official Statements of Apology are only four

What is an official Japanese government statement? What would make a Japanese apology official? The following paper answers this question by pointing out the three war apologies that have distinction of a Cabinet Decision (kakugi kettei) behind them. This is approval by Cabinet, which is the executive of the Japanese government. No war apology can be said to have been approved by the Diet, which would also be official.

The article below does not mention the fourth Cabinet Decision on a war apology. This was in 2009 to the American former POWs (buried in a February 6, 2009 reply, #171-22 [English, Question III, #3], to a Dietmember). Written answers to questions made in the Diet are kakugi ketteis. This apology by implication and vagueness included ALL POWs of Imperial Japan during WWII. It is the first war apology to a specific group.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in all his war statements has been very careful not to have them Cabinet approved. Neither his address to the joint meeting of the U.S. Congress or at Pearl Harbor were Cabinet approved. This substantially weakens them, and implies that the words are more personal than state sanctioned. There is then room for improvement.

The Prime Minister's Statements on Understanding of History

By Junichiro Shoji, director of NIDS Center for Military HistoryNational Institute for Defense Studies Commentary, 18 February 2013. Provisional translation by Asia Policy Point. [National Institute for Defense Studies is a policy research institute under Japan's Ministry of Defense]


In a speech to a plenary session of the Upper House, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that he "would like to make a future-oriented statement that is appropriate for the 21st century," while, as with his first cabinet, continuing to follow the tenor of the "Murayama Statement," indicating Abe's intention to issue a new "Abe Statement." Abe has referred a number of times to the idea of an "Abe Statement" up to now, but this was the first time he mentioned the possibility in the Diet.

In this article, I will focus on three "Prime Minister's Statements" addressing Japan's historical understanding that received cabinet approval in order to identify their respective particular features and differences among them (these statements being divided between those receiving cabinet approval and those not needing it).

1) Murayama Statement

The "Murayama Statement," officially entitled "On the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the War's End," was a statement issued by Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on 15 August 1995, 50 years after the end of the Second World War, regarding Japan's recognition of its wartime history. The following is an extract from the statement.
During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. 
The primary special aspect of this statement is Murayama's expression of "deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology" in regards to the "tremendous damage and suffering" inflicted on Asian and other countries through Japan's "colonial rule and aggression." Moreover, based on this recognition, Murayama expressed his commitment to peace and the renunciation of war to ensure that Japan never repeats this sorrow of history again.

Up to then, official documents, statements, speeches, and so on had often expressed Japan's "remorse," "apology," and "renunciation of war," but [the Murayama Statement] compiled all of these sentiments into one statement, and was given the weighty imprimatur of cabinet approval [kakugi kettei, emphasis added]. For example, in his policy speech to the Diet on 23 August 1993, then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa stated, "I would like to express anew our profound remorse and apologies for the fact that past Japanese actions, including aggression and colonial rule, caused unbearable suffering and sorrow for so many people." Prime Minister Murayama himself in the "Statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on the 'Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiative,'" issued in August 1994, expressed similar sentiments.

The second aspect is that for the first time a reference to "following a mistaken national policy" was included in the Murayama Statement. Since a clear recognition was made of a "mistaken national policy," an animated debate subsequently ensued about who the main bearers of responsibility were and what the specific target policies and their timing were.

At that time, there were various views in Japan on the matter. For example, since disputes had arisen regarding historical understanding, the Resolution To Renew the Commitment to Peace on the Basis of Lessons Learned From History (War Renouncing Resolution) that was issued by the Lower House in June 1995 adopted the following mediating language: "Solemnly reflecting upon many instances of colonial rule and acts of aggression in the modern history of the world, and recognizing that Japan carried out such acts in the past, inflicting pain and suffering upon the peoples of other countries, especially in Asia, the Member s in this House express a sense of deep remorse."

That is, the words "aggression" and "apology" were replaced by "acts of aggression" and "deep remorse" respectively. A sentence calling for "transcending the differences over historical views of the past war" was also added. Moreover, although Diet resolutions are meant, in principle, to be passed unanimously, since many members from both the ruling and the opposition parties absented themselves during the voting, it was the rare case of a resolution being approved by less than half the total number of Diet members.

Although the Murayama statement was said, for external consumption, to have been led by the prime minister's office, in actuality, the statement was carefully vetted by the Foreign Ministry as part of its long-term processing of post-war policy. Moreover, the target countries for the resolution, particularly China, South Korea, the United States, and Britain, were kept well in mind, and letters from Murayama were sent to those four countries at the same time as the statement was released. (See The Murayama Statement and MOFA, by Ryuji Hattori.)

Accordingly, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson lauded the statement, saying, "The Japanese government has expressed deep remorse over their past history of colonial rule and aggression, and they have shown a positive attitude in apologizing to the peoples of Asia."

After that, the Murayama Statement policy was adopted and followed by successive cabinets, including those of the Liberal Democratic Party, and the policy has continued until today.

2) Koizumi Statements

On 15 August 2005, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued a statement marking the 60th anniversary of the Second World War's end. It basically followed the Murayama Statement, but Koizumi's statement was significant because it was issued by an LDP prime minister. It is certainly true that certain quarters in both China and South Korea were dissatisfied with the Murayama Statement because it was issued under a Socialist Party administration.

Koizumi's statement had the following characteristics. First, the references to the wartime period in the Murayama Statement, particularly those that sparked argument, such as "following a mistaken national policy," "ensnar[ing] the Japanese people in a fateful crisis," and "eliminat[ing] self-righteous nationalism," are gone, and in their place, much more prominence is given to emphasizing Japan's postwar history of peaceful development (achievements as a peace-loving nation). 

Thus, Koizumi's statement points out that postwar Japan adopted a completely pacifist position, and has contributed to peace and prosperity in the world (international contributions) through its Official Development Assistance (ODA), participation in UN peacekeeping operations (PKO), and so on. The statement reads, "Japan's postwar history has indeed been six decades of manifesting its remorse on the war through actions." Koizumi's statement has a "new aspect not found in the Murayama Statement," and as shown by the path taken by Japan after the war, Japan's past remorse is expressed not only in words [but also by international contributions], and "by emphasizing that Japan's actual actions are proof of this, the statement is all the more persuasive" (Takakazu Kuriyama, Wakai [Reconciliation]).

Incidentally, in a BBC opinion survey in 2012, Japan was ranked as the top country for "having a positive influence on the world," and in a survey by an Australian think tank in 2012, Japan ranked 5th in a list of "peaceful countries."

On the other hand, in the history education and media in China and South Korea, compared with the Second World War and Japan's colonial rule, Japan's postwar course has not been taken up very much. The Japan-China History Research Committee (December 2006-December 2009), of which I was a member, addressed not only the wartime period but also ancient and modern history, including the postwar period. In that sense, it had epoch-making significance (although at the request of the Chinese side, the section in the committee's report dealing with postwar history was not publicly released). This committee was established based on an agreement with the Chinese side when Prime Minister Abe visited China in October 2006. The Chinese side "positively appreciated the fact that postwar Japan has consistently followed the path of a peaceful country based on freedom and democracy."

Second, based on postwar Japan's pacifism, Koizumi's statement declared, "I believe it is necessary to work hand in hand with other Asian countries, especially with China and the Republic of Korea, which are Japan's neighboring countries separated only by a strip of water, to maintain peace and pursue the development of the region." While specifically naming China and South Korea, the statement penultimately concluded, "I intend to build a future-oriented cooperative relationship based on mutual understanding and trust with Asian countries."

At the Asian-African Summit (Bandung Conference) held in Jakarta in April 2005, Prime Minister Koizumi gave a similar speech, following the line of the Murayama Statement, but it was the first time a Japanese prime minister had referred to the matter of historical awareness at an international conference and expressed "remorse" and "apologies," making the speech exceptional.

Third, Koizumi's statement begins: "...I affirm my determination that Japan must never again take the path to war, reflecting that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today are founded on the ultimate sacrifices of those who lost their lives for the war against the their will. More than three million compatriots died in the war -- in the battlefield thinking about their homeland and worrying about their families, while others perished amidst the destruction of war, or after the war in remote foreign countries." Referring to the Japanese war dead, the statement expresses a remembrance of the Japanese who died as a result of the war and a desire for peace. This is an expression of Koizumi's logic (thinking) for visiting Yasukuni Shrine.

Prime Minister Koizumi's first visit to Yasukuni after becoming prime minister came in August 2001; because of his consideration of China, Koizumi made the visit on the 13th, ahead of the anniversary on the 15th. On that day, Koizumi issued a statement that began: "...Japan caused tremendous sufferings to many people of the world, including its own people. Following a mistaken national policy during a certain period in the past, Japan imposed, through its colonial rule and aggression, immeasurable ravages and suffering, particularly to the people of the neighboring countries in Asia. This has left a still incurable scar to many people in the region." This statement replaces the Murayama Statement's phrase "tremendous damage and suffering" with "immeasurable ravages and suffering." With the addition of the idea of an "incurable scar" and so on, Koizumi's statement was evaluated as going beyond the Murayama Statement. Although he continued to visit Yasukuni, Koizumi carried on the policy line of the Murayama Statement.

Moreover, when Koizumi visited China on 8 October, two months after his first Yasukuni visit, he went to the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (near Lugou Bridge), the first prime minister to do so since Murayama visited the Museum in 1995. "I looked at the various exhibits with a feeling of heartfelt apology and condolences for those Chinese people who were victims of aggression...We must look directly at our past history and must never cause a war again. Based on our remorse, Japan has been able to achieve prosperity as a peaceful country after the war," Koizumi said after he toured the museum. Koizumi expressed remorse and an apology more clearly than the Murayama Statement, which did not specify the other countries. The Chinese side highly appreciated Koizumi's remarks, and Chinese President Jiang Zemin said with surprise, "This is the first Japanese prime minister I can talk with to such an extent." Sources said that the Chinese side held expectations that Koizumi would not visit Yasukuni again (Yomiuri Shimbun, 28 July 2005). Thus, it has been pointed out that in response to Koizumi's subsequent repeated visits to Yasukuni, the main emphasis of China's criticism moved from the issue of historical understanding per se to the damage to the national sentiment of the suffering country.

3) Kan Statement

Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued a statement in August 2010, the 100th anniversary of the annexation of Korea. The statement referred only to South Korea, and it was the first statement issued by the Democratic Party of Japan.

Following the tenor of the Murayama Statement, Kan's statement made specific mention of Japan's colonial rule of Korea, and in reference to the March 1st independence movement [Samil Movement], the statement recognized the coerciveness of Japan's colonial rule: "...the Korean people of that time [were deprived of their country], and their ethnic pride was deeply scarred by the colonial rule, which was imposed against their will...." Expressing consideration for the sentiments of the South Korean people, the statement also said, "Those who render pain tend to forget it, while those who suffered cannot forget it easily."

On the other hand, around half of the statement, particularly the latter half, declares that Japan and South Korea should build future-oriented ties based on the 2,000 years of exchanges and friendship between the two countries, while also recognizing the sorrowful periods in the past. Thus the statement declares: "Japan and the Republic of Korea have become the most important and closest neighboring nations now in the 21st century, sharing such values as democracy, freedom, and a market economy." Referencing the idea of an East Asian community, the statement also stressed the necessity of building a "partnership where we cooperate and exercise leadership for the peace and prosperity of the region and the world."


As far as an Abe Statement, the specific timing and contents will be considered from now. Regarding the timing, it is said that, in accordance with custom, one option is the year 2015, which will mark the 70th year since the war's end. As regards the contents, Abe has stated, "We should issue a statement that is appropriate for one given 70 years after the war and which includes the postwar path taken by Japan and the path that should be taken from now." Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has said, "We believe that a statement that is focused on a future-oriented outlook is necessary when we consider the stability, peace, and economies of Asia."

In other words, it is believed that the statement will aim for an "orientation towards the future," based on Japan's postwar course and not being solely tied to the past. It will likely reflect the transition, which I have taken up in this article, from the Murayama Statement, which took responsibility for Japan's wartime period, to the statements by Koizumi and Kan, which, while based on the sentiments of the Murayama Statement, also emphasized Japan's postwar path and future-oriented relations.

I had several opportunities to talk with scholars on the Chinese side through the Japan-China Joint History Research Committee, and I found that, in actuality, even the Murayama Statement is not sufficiently known in China. And since the impressions produced by Koizumi's repeated visits to Yasukuni ended up overshadowing the contents of his various statements and remarks, I was at first particularly surprised that members on the Chinese side said they wanted to read the full texts of Koizumi's statements and requested copies of them.

It is said that US President Bill Clinton, after reading an English translation of the Murayama Statement, praised it as being a "very courageous statement." From now, more efforts should be made to disseminate this series of statements by Japan's prime ministers more widely overseas.

· Kuriyama, Takakazu, Wakai -- Nihon Gaikou no Mondai (1) (Reconciliation -- Issues for Japanese Diplomacy), Gaiko Forum, January 2006.

· Hattori, Ryuji, Murayama Danwa to Gaimushou -- Shuusen 50 Shuunen no Gaikou (The Murayama Statement and MOFA -- Diplomacy in the 50th Year After the End of the War), in Nihonron: Gurobaruka-suru Nihon, ed., Tanaka Tsutomu, Chuo University Press, 2007.

· Shoji, Junichiro, Rekishi-Ninshiki o Meguru Nihon Gaikou -- Nitchuu Kankei o Chuushin To Shite (Japanese Diplomacy Regarding Historical Understanding -- Focusing on Japan-China Relations), Kokusai Seiji, No. 170, October 2012.

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