'Some time the hating has to stop'

On his visit to Japan last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could hardly have been accused of pandering to his hosts.

Twice in two days, he spoke frankly about the long shadow that Japan's World War II record cast on its relations with some of its Asian neighbours 70 years on.

Once, he did so to a room full of Japanese businessmen during the Nikkei Conference. He spoke about his uncle who was "taken away and never came back" and how, as a 10-year-old, he had seen a mass grave being dug up beside his school.

Mr Lee's Japanese interviewer, a journalist, shifted in his seat as he admitted to being "struck" by his guest's "candid comments".

Of course, the PM remained diplomatic and was never drawn into finger-pointing. Singapore, he said, was an example of a country that chose to close accounts and forge constructive relations with Japan. His larger point was that all countries should face up to history and move on.

Many will find Singapore's approach to the issue unacceptable.

After Mr Lee's comments were published, I received an e-mail from a Singaporean, a Mr Pang, who asked if the war issue was indeed behind us.

"Is it really closed? The Government could have closed the issue. But have the Singaporean people closed the issue?" he wrote.

At the Nikkei Conference, I was seated beside a South Korean - a former senior politician and the boss of a major newspaper. I asked about the conspicuous absence of South Korean speakers. He cited strained relations after controversial remarks by Japan's leaders on its history.

He then expressed surprise that South-east Asian nations like Singapore were not more outraged each time there was a quarrel over, say, Japanese textbooks.

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