Abe aimed for wide consensus in speech

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) bows in front of Japan's Emperor Akihito (L) and Empress Michiko during a memorial service ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender in World War Two, at Budokan Hall in Tokyo August 15, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

The statement announced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II used the same keywords as statements by past leaders - such as "apology" and "aggression" - but it also incorporated future-oriented language and appears to have taken pains to include the wider views of the public.

It remains to be seen, however, if the statement announced Friday achieved Abe's goal of reassessing postwar Japan.

Unusually long

"More than one hundred years ago, vast colonies possessed mainly by the Western powers stretched out across the world."

Abe's statement looked back on more than 100 years of Japanese history starting from the Meiji Era, a point not mentioned in the statements by former prime mnisters Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi.

Abe's 3,400-character statement took him 25 minutes to read - far longer than Murayama's and Koizumi's 50th and 60th anniversary statements of around 1,200 characters each.

Abe initially wanted to use the statement to shine a light on the postwar period, express gratitude to the many nations that have recognised Japan's postwar actions and describe his ideas on "proactive pacifism," in which Japan would actively contribute to regional and global peace and stability. He also wanted to appeal to his conservative base.

When Abe's intentions regarding the statement became known, however, many demanded he uphold the expressions related to historical perceptions in the Murayama and Koizumi statements.

The calls came not only from China and South Korea but from Komeito, the coalition partner of Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. As a result, some space was allotted for discussing prewar Japan.

The statement became exceptionally long after the inclusion of, as a senior LDP official put it, "language that could satisfy both the hawks and the doves."

Abe made meticulous preparations so the statement's content could achieve his goal of a "course correction."

He convened a panel of experts in February called the Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan's Role and the World Order in the 21st Century, which was charged with drafting a report that would serve as a basis for the statement.

The report delivered to Abe in early August urged him to include certain expressions used in past statements, such as "aggression," "colonial rule" and "thorough reflection."

The panel thus fulfilled its role in laying down rules that would allow Abe to naturally uphold the statements of the past prime ministers.

Yet the report also contained a few "tricks" - for one, it didn't directly address apologising for the war, which caused many to wonder if Abe intended to offer an apology. However, the statement ended up including the phrase "heartfelt apology" as well as other keywords on historical perceptions.

Komeito's leaders had been worried about an "Abe slant" to the statement, but they were reportedly thrilled when shown a copy in advance.

One source said the report intentionally didn't address the idea of an "apology" to lower expectations for the statement.

While the statement is studded with characteristic Abe ideas, many signs point to his efforts to achieve an overall balance. The statement said, for example, that the Japan-Russia War "gave encouragement to many people under colonial rule from Asia to Africa."

On the issue of apologising, the statement said future generations should not "be predestined to apologise." This reflects Abe's deep-rooted doubts about Japan, whose citizens were mostly born after the war, being continually held responsible for the war.

Consideration was also paid to China and South Korea, who have often used history to criticise Japan, through expressions not seen in past statements.

The statement touched on "all the sufferings of the war" experienced by the Chinese people due to Japan's aggression.

Apparently referring to so-called comfort women, which is an important issue for South Korea, the statement said, "We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured."

The statement also called for rapprochement with China and South Korea, saying that, "Thanks to such manifestation of tolerance, Japan was able to return to the international community in the postwar era."

"I hope Japan's forthright feelings will be accepted as they are presented," Abe said at a press conference, indicating his desire to realise a "postwar review."

Abe acknowledges aggression

Abe acknowledged Japan's wartime aggression at a press conference Friday following his statement to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

"I think there were acts that have been judged to be aggression," Abe said when asked about the nation's wartime conduct.

Abe has been reluctant to recognise that Japan's acts during the war constitute aggression.

The prime minister had declined to acknowledge the nation's wartime acts as aggression, including on occasions such as a 2013 House of Councillors Budget Committee session, where Abe said that "the definition of aggression has not been officially decided either academically or internationally."