Monday, April 24, 2023

Kishida's non-surprise

The Not Surprising Visit

But was it constitutional?

By Takuya Nishimura
, Editorial Writer, The Hokkaido Shimbun
The views expressed by the author are his own and are not associated with The Hokkaido Shimbun
April 3, 2023

News organizations in Japan reported with sensational headlines the visit of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, as the chairman of Group 7, to the capital of Ukraine.  At the time the Russian invasion was showing signs of a quagmire, and Western support was indispensable. In the meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Kishida pledged multiple forms of assistance to support Ukraine its historic conflict to maintain democratic ties in the world. 

The real surprise of the visit was that most people in Japan, known as a nation whose constitution adopts strict pacifism, approved of his visit to the place where an actual war was being waged. The Japanese people appear to be accustomed to the real world that is confused by unilateral Russian aggression to Ukraine.

Prime Minister Kishida’s visit has at least one precedent. In 2003, the Koizumi Administration decided to support U.S. President George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” by sending Japanese Self-defense Forces to Samawah, Iraq. This decision led to a broad argument whether the forces’ activities would be made only within the non-combat zone. Sending the forces to a combat zone was recognized as a violation of the constitution of Japan, which renounces war as a measure of settling international conflicts. When the Ministry of Defense disclosed in 2018 the official records of SDF activities in Iraq, the opposition parties accused the government of breaching the constitution, because the description included the word “combat” around the camp.

A similar question arises here: is the PM's visit to the combat zone constitutional? As long as Kyiv was exposed to Russian missile or drone strikes, it could be said that Kishida's visit was made in the combat zone. The PM commands and controls the Self-defense Forces under Article 7 of the Self-defense Forces Act. Even though actual troops did not accompany him, Kishida’s visit means that Japan's supreme commander is not neutral in the conflict and is supporting one of the combatants that is engaged in a war (as is its enemy) as a measure of settling an international conflict. 

However, the legitimacy or implications of the PM’s visit was not discussed in Japan. It is likely that the unjust invasion by the Russians offset the uncertain constitutionality of Kishida’s visit to a country at war. And, maybe, accepting the responsibilities of being a G7 country.

During the visit, both leaders delivered a joint statement on “the special global partnership” between Japan and Ukraine. The statement denounced Russia for its baseless aggression against Ukraine, declared that Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons was unacceptable, and increased the G7 commitment to $39 billion for fiscal and economic support of Ukraine. The leaders also shared serious concerns on the situation in the East and South China Seas. Zelenskyy pronounced Kishida a protector of Ukraine and international order and accepted Kishida’s invitation to G7 Hiroshima Summit in May (Zelenskyy will attend virtually.) Before the meeting, Kishida visited the city of Bucha where Russian troops had massacred Ukrainians, and displayed solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

Among the reasons why there were no active arguments on the constitutionality of the visit is that Kishida has maintained from the beginning a relatively firm position against the Russian invasion. The Japanese people could easily understand the visit as a diplomatic activity. Indeed, Kishida was the last leader among G7 nations to visit the capital of Ukraine after he had received an invitation from Zelenskyy in a telephone conversation in January. The surprise visit was therefore not surprising for Japanese people.

One possible negative aspect of the visit is the impact on Japan’s relationship with China. On the same day that Kishida met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Moscow in talks with Putin. Thus, two leaders of major powers in Asia were visibly standing on opposite sides of a war. A spokesperson for Foreign Ministry of China said that China hoped Japan would help settle the conflict in Ukraine rather than to do the opposite. It is obvious that Kishida has more diplomatic work to do in terms of managing Japan’s relationship with China, as the day of G7 Summit meeting in Hiroshima is approaching.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Rescinding Japan's War Apology

What Will Kishida Say on August 15 at Japan’s National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead?

Kishida has an opportunity to demonstrate his independence now that Abe is gone. Will he return to the legacy of the Murayama statement?

By Mindy Kotler, Asia Policy Point

The Diplomat, August 13, 2022

What Will Kishida Say on August 15 at Japan's National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead?

In the immediate aftermath of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s murder, Japan’s current leader Kishida Fumio promised to honor Abe’s legacy by building upon his accomplishments. The reportedly more liberal Kishida, however, came to power expected to do the opposite and dial back some of his predecessor’s more provocative stances. His room to maneuver was limited, however, by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s right wing and Abe’s own constant public hectoring on hewing to the course.

With Abe’s untimely death, Kishida has an opportunity to demonstrate his independence. The first indication of a new course may come with his August 15 address at the National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead.

A crucial objective of Abe’s two terms was the freeing of Japan from “masochistic” history. This odd expression was a call to arms advocating both amending the U.S.-imposed “mind-control” constitution and ending Japan’s war apology diplomacy. Although constitutional amendment was not accomplished, the latter objective has been achieved.

Abe led an aggressive campaign to reconstruct history and monitor its telling at home and aboard. Diplomats asked the governments of the Philippines and Germany to remove statues memorializing the “comfort women” and other victims of sexual violence. Abe ordered the creation of commissions questioning the legitimacy of Japan’s 1995 official war apology, known as the Murayama statement, and the 1993 provisional apology to the comfort women, known as the Kono statement. (Here it should be noted that this particular statement is no longer prominently noted on the Foreign Ministry’s webpage explaining their position regarding the comfort women. Instead, it is buried in another document and only the knowledgeable and persistent can find it.)

Cabinet level officials squired applications for UNESCO World Heritage recognition of culturally dubious and politically fraught sites. One was an island shrine inaccessible to women. Another glorified Japan’s industrialization while disregarding the troubled use and abuse of convicts, the underclasses, children, Koreans, Chinese, and prisoners of war. Government promises to UNESCO to include this missing history have not been kept.

The Foreign Ministry was pressed into defending false history in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, scrubbing its website of historical documents containing embarrassing details, and asking the public to report historical narratives contradicting the new official positions. The Abe government used budget allocations to hire public relations firms and amateur historians to cast doubt on widely respected historians. 

In talks with the Park Geun-hye administration in South Korea seeking to resolve the disagreements over the proper means of recognizing the dignity of the comfort women, the Abe government resorted to an unprecedented diplomatic diversion. Despite announcing an “agreement,” the 2015 comfort women talks resulted in two competing unsigned memoranda distributed at a “Joint Press Occasion.” The Japanese memorandum, in particular, contains an impossible demand that “this issue is resolved finally and irreversibly.” The “Press Occasion” document was furthermore not Cabinet approved, unlike every other diplomatic agreement the government of Japan has ever announced.

The crowning moment of Abe’s revisionism was his 2020 August 15th address at the National Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead. His remarks were the culmination of a seven-year effort to completely revise, if not indeed rescind, the 1995 Murayama statement, the cabinet-approved apology for World War II released by Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi. Until Abe, the Murayama statement was the template for all Japanese apologies. The 2020 statement, however, had many of Murayama’s key phrases removed. The new statement was not an apology to Japan’s victims. Instead, it paid tribute to the Japanese people for their resilience.

As early as 2013, on August 15, Abe stopped expressing his “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology.” He replaced “colonial rule and aggression” in the Murayama statement with the milder “Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war” causing “immeasurable damage and suffering.” The main focus shifted away from Japan’s victims to turning the war into a positive transformation where “the peace and prosperity that we now enjoy have been built upon the sacrifices of you who gave up your precious lives.” And the four mentions of unfortunate history in the Murayama statement were reduced to just one promising blandly to “face history with humility and engrave deeply into our hearts the lessons that we should learn.” 

Abe tried to codify these changes with a Cabinet-approved statement issued the day before the 2015 August 15th memorial. He explained that his Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the 21st Century had reevaluated Japan’s post-war period. The conclusion was that today’s Japanese are not “predestined to apologize.” Instead, “Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past” only because the peace enjoyed today “exists only upon such precious sacrifices” that are “the origin of postwar Japan.”

Abe’s last memorial statement was in 2020 for the 75th anniversary of Japan’s surrender ending World War II. It made no reference to history or remorse at all. The pledge to take “the lessons of history deeply into our hearts” vanished. In its place, Abe introduced a new, “forward-looking” phrase – that Japan was ready to make a “proactive contribution to peace.” 

In 2021, Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide substantially repeated Abe’s 2020 reconstruction of Japan’s war apology. History remained now only with the Japanese. Like his predecessor, Suga insisted that the lesson learned from WWII was “We will not forget, even for a moment, that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today was built atop the precious lives and the history of suffering of the war dead. I express my deepest respect and gratitude once more.” 

Come August 15, Kishida has a decision to make. He can choose to accept Abe’s unrepentant, nationalistic war remembrance. This would of course please the Abe faction and revisionist pressure organization Nippon Kaigi, whose legislative wing includes Kishida and most of the members of his new Cabinet. 

Or Kishida, a legislator from Hiroshima, can reassert the centrality of the Murayama statement and the honest, forthright contrition it represents. If he does so, he would send a powerful signal to South Korea and Imperial Japan’s other victims that Japan is willing to confront its dark history.

UPDATE: August 15, 2022

On August 15th, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida repeated Abe's unrepentant statement remembering, but not apologizing for WWII. With his statement, Kishida completed the undoing of the Murayama Statement of apology and remorse.

Kishida largely focused on the damage Japan suffered on its Home Islands — the U.S. atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the massive fire-bombings across Japan, and the bloody ground battle on Okinawa. He said the peace and prosperity that the country enjoys today is built on the suffering and sacrifices of those who died in the war. The Japanese, he like Abe implied, were the victims. There was no mention of the harm Imperial Japan inflicted upon others. He repeated Abe's pledge for Japan to make "Proactive Contribution to Peace," which implies military involvement in upcoming world conflicts.

Kishida did, however, return to the August 15th statement a mention of history, however stopping short of actually learning from it: "Taking the lessons of history deeply into our hearts."