Abe's speech: Sincerity vital for reconciliation

Abe's speech: Sincerity vital for reconciliation
PHOTO: Reuters

We asked experts for their opinions on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The third and final instalment is an interview with University of Tokyo Prof. Akio Takahara.

Carefully reading the Abe statement, we find that its content is quite substantial, with all the major key words of past statements included, and that it goes into greater detail than past statements about what must be reflected upon.

The large majority of Japanese feel that in the 70 years since the end of the war, Japan has reflected on the war and worked hard to contribute substantially to international society, while also feeling a sense of remorse towards the countries that Japan invaded. The content of the statement aligns with this natural sentiment.

Some people believed that it would be possible to avoid using the same words as past statements, as long as the the sincerity and sentiment of the statement were properly conveyed. But in some countries, there is a deeply rooted mistrust of the prime minister as a historical revisionist. There was a danger that if he were to go out of his way to use different words, this would fuel suspicions that he was actually thinking something else.

Going forward, the government should precisely translate the statement into languages besides English, and explain its aims to each country. For example, it is necessary to properly convey the strong meaning that the word "owabi (apology)" has in Japanese.

When President Jiang Zemin of China visited Japan in 1998, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi used the word "owabi" in summit talks, causing confusion among the Chinese representatives who wondered why he had used the word "owabi" instead of "shazai" as they incorrectly thought "owabi" would have a lighter nuance.

Concerns from China and South Korea about Prime Minister Abe's historical perception will not be brushed away in one stroke with this statement, and there is unlikely to be a fundamental change in their stance of making accusations about issues over historical perception whenever possible. Both the Japanese government and people must express sincerity towards partners with whom reconciliation remains elusive, and doggedly pursue its fulfillment.

The statement includes the phrase "we must not let future generations be predestined to apologise." This seems to mean that Japan must continue to pursue reconciliation. Certainly, later generations do not have any responsibility for the aggression of the war, but there is a responsibility to not forget the facts, and to convey them to future generations.

China fluctuates between two contradictory courses, of emphasizing economic relations with Japan while portraying Japan as an enemy in order to rally domestic solidarity. The danger of Chinese nationalism cannot be underestimated. The Chinese economy has recently shown signs of a slowdown. If that begins to destabilize the regime of Xi Jinping, Japan is at risk of becoming a target of fierce nationalist anger.

In order to protect Japan's national interests, the Abe administration must continue to act calmly and wisely regarding issues over historical perception, without being swept up in the emotional arguments of certain factions.

Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer Shuhei Kuromi conducted the interview.

Akio Takahara

He has held his current position since 2005, after serving as a special investigator at the Hong Kong Consulate and a professor at Rikkyo University. His specialty is modern Chinese and East Asian politics. Publications include "History of China-Japan Relations: Politics" (co-edited, published by University of Tokyo Press). He is 57 years old.

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