Japan should issue apology to Asian states, ex-PM says

Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

Japan should again apologise to other Asian countries for its wartime behaviour, according to the country's former prime minister Tomiichi Murayama.

This would help it to review its past and stop history from repeating itself, he said in his home city of Oita in an exclusive interview with China Daily.

Japan needs to continually consider its past, he said, adding, "It's important for Japan to reflect on history."

In 1995, when Murayama was head of the Socialist Party and led a coalition with the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, he made a "heartfelt apology" for the wartime damage and suffering caused by Japan's "colonial rule" and "aggression".

The apology became known as the Murayama Statement and was regarded as an expression of conscience.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed to uphold previous statements, including Murayama's, in speeches at the Bandung conference in Indonesia and at the US Congress in Washington in April.

The LDP leader spoke about "deep remorse", but stopped short of repeating the keywords in the earlier statements-apology, colonial rule and aggression.

Junji Tachino, deputy director of the editorial board of Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper, criticised Abe for continuing to display different faces to the US and Asia.

In a letter sent to Abe on Monday, a group of 187 scholars of Japanese and East Asian studies called on Japan to accurately address its history of colonial rule and wartime actions, particularly the exploitation of the so-called comfort women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

The scholars include Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower and Ezra Vogel, professor emeritus of history at Harvard University and author of the 1979 best-seller Japan As No. 1: Lessons for America.

Murayama is a tenacious defender of Japan's pacifist Constitution. He criticised the Abe administration for capitalizing on territorial disputes to inflame a fear of China among the people of Japan.

The administration is using tension over the Diaoyu Islands as a pretext for amending Japan's Constitution.

Murayama said rewriting the Constitution would change the nature of Japan and the defence-only policy, and added, "It is unacceptable that a Cabinet reinterprets the Constitution at will."

In July, Abe's Cabinet reinterpreted the Constitution to give a right to collective self-defence, or defending an ally under armed attack even when Japan is not under threat.

The ruling LDP-New Komeito coalition expects to have security-linked bills enacted during the current session of the Diet, Japan's parliament.

The session is due to end on June 24, but is expected to be extended for about a month.

These bills will facilitate new defence guidelines Japan and the United States plan to introduce this year, with China as an imaginary foe, analysts say.

Murayama, however, said Japan would be better off thinking about how to prevent itself from attacking or invading other countries, rather than mapping out strategies based on the assumption that it will be attacked or invaded.

"If Japan insisted on a pacifist policy-sending no soldiers overseas-which country would invade Japan?" he asked. "There is the hype around the Diaoyu Islands. Will China attack Japan for these islands? It is scarcely thinkable.

"If Japan sends the signal that it wants no war, it will not be threatened by other countries. This is the virtuous course Murayama thinks Japan should pursue.

"If Japan envisages plans based on the possibility of being attacked, other countries will respond to it with revised policies. If so, the situation will be more volatile.

"Hence, keeping Japan's pacifist Constitution intact is of paramount importance."

The LDP is paving the way for a referendum in 2017 on plans to amend the Constitution for the first time. It wants the Diet to initiate constitutional revisions in 2017 after the election for the upper house in the summer of 2016, and then hold a referendum.

Murayama expressed concern over the fact that advocates of constitutional revision have generated a sense of crisis among an increasing number of people.

In a Kyodo News poll, 46.7 per cent of the respondents supported constitutional amendments, while 42.3 per cent were opposed.

Any moves to revise the Constitution must be supported by at least two-thirds of both of the Diet's chambers before they can be put to a national referendum.

Murayama believes this is such a high hurdle that the LDP will have difficulty crossing it.

Japan has followed Washington's lead by staying outside the China-initiated Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank.

However, Murayama believes the two countries will join the institution sooner or later.

"The AIIB is a good idea because Asia's development, which is making headway, needs a lot of funding," he said.