After 70 years, a painful chapter in the region's history should have been closed by all who contributed to and bore the anguish of World War II. Regrettably, hoary pride still loiters and old hurts linger. It needn't be so if Asian statesmen rise to the occasion, on a key anniversary of the war's end, by demonstrating sincerity of intentions. The weight of history and his own past actions place that duty on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe too, when he makes his statement tomorrow to mark the anniversary on Saturday.
It's a sad reflection of residual bitterness that commentators in China and Korea, whose people suffered immensely during the war, are sceptical about the sincerity of any apology that Mr Abe might make.
That's not surprising because of the mixed signals that Mr Abe himself has been giving in the lead-up to the statement. The world's hope is that Mr Abe will endorse, as was hinted recently, the statement of 1995 of then premier Tomiichi Murayama that expressed both "deep remorse and heartfelt apology".
He would cause needless spasm if he chooses to depart from the Murayama statement, as was also suggested, for the sake of the historical revisionists in Japan.
Doing the former would underscore the sincerity of Japan's "proactive pacifism" - best expressed if it helps to keep the peace by contributing to the strategic balance of power in the region. But if Mr Abe were to water down the statement acknowledging Japan's war atrocities, then it will confirm suspicions about an intention to revise history, including whitewashing its past aggression.
Japan's revisionist tendencies began in the mid-1990s in a backlash to its liberal internationalist period from the mid-1980s, during which its leaders sought to reach settlements on historical issues with China and South Korea. Leading the revisionist movement was a new cohort of politicians born after World War II, including Mr Abe.
Since becoming premier, Mr Abe has visited the Yasukuni shrine that honours the country's wartime leaders and sought to play down Japan's responsibility over "comfort women", saying they were "trafficked" by brokers. Coupled to all this has been his determination to revise the pacifist Constitution to allow Japan to have a full-fledged military. It is against this loaded backdrop that he will make his statement tomorrow.
Mr Abe must be clear about how Japan wants to move forward. The world wants to see Japan put its ugly past behind and be a "normal" country where security is concerned. But the wartime hangover will persist if a sincere and unequivocal expression of remorse and apology is considered too much for Mr Abe to utter.
Even more reprehensible would be any indication that post-war Japanese leaders like Mr Abe are hell-bent on an Orwellian rewriting of recorded history.
This article was first published on Aug 13, 2015.
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