TOKYO: Hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday he intends to release a new statement on Japan’s attitude to the Second World War, just a day after unveiling plans to revamp the US-imposed pacifist constitution.
The nationalist premier, who swept to power on promises of a more robust diplomacy that will stand up to China, has long been known to favour the toning down of a 1995 apology for wartime aggression directed at Asian neighbours.
Beijing and Seoul, amongst others, have repeatedly called for Tokyo to face up to its bellicose past and make proper amends for its 20th century warring.
Yesterday, Abe revealed only that he will revisit the issue at some point in the future, and gave no insight into any new declaration.
“I would like to announce a future-orientated statement that will suit the 21st century,” Abe told lawmakers. “On the timing and the content I’d like to think thoroughly hereafter.”
The landmark 1995 pronouncement by then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama was seen as a key step in what many Asian nations say was Japan finally starting to come to terms with its brutal history.
The statement said Japan “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations”, adding the premier felt “deep remorse” and offered a “heartfelt apology”.
Abe said yesterday he was in agreement with previous sentiments, adding: “Japan in the past caused great damage and suffering to many countries, particularly in Asia. The Abe cabinet shares that recognition with past cabinets.”
In a possible hint the statement may come in 2015, he said: “The so-called Murayama statement was issued to commemorate 50 years after the war, and 60 years after the war the (Junichiro) Koizumi administration issued a statement.”
Abe was propelled to the leadership of his Liberal Democratic Party after playing to the party’s right wing and a small, but vociferous section of society who feel Japan has been judged harshly by history.
They say Tokyo should stop kowtowing to demands for self-abasement and that Beijing and Seoul ought to move past wartime events.
Observers say holding out the chance of a historical reassessment without offering anything concrete could be a gambit by Abe to keep his base onside.
At the same time, it avoids alienating the public at large, who are widely turned off by aggressive rhetoric and revisionism.