A rogue nation called Japan“A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism,” begins the famous 1848 “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx, which outlined the problems of capitalism and detailed the opposite glories of communism. We may borrow Marx’s famous declaration to be able to say, “The spectre of Japan’s imperialistic militarism is running amok in East Asia.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other cabinet members raised their hands above their heads to hail the Emperor and Empress during a ceremony marking Japan’s “Return to Sovereignty” on April 28 commemorating the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1952 that formerly ended the seven-year U.S.-led occupation after Japan’s defeat in the Second World War. The sight of dark-suited men throwing their hands in the air and crying “banzai” to salute the Emperor under a giant rising sun flag was an ominous harbinger of the rise of a militarist Japan that sent shivers through its neighbors with their bitter memories of Japan’s past aggression. A somber Abe, enjoying unprecedented popularity for a Japanese prime minister, cried out, “We have a responsibility to make Japan a strong and resolute country that others across the world can rely on.”
Can the world really rely on a strong and resolute Japan championed by Abe? His call to restore national hope and pride is worrying neighbors and the rest of the world since the last time Japan was so outspoken about itself was in the 1930s and 1940s when it fanned out across Asia to commit atrocities that left irremediable scars. The hawkish prime minister’s bigoted nationalistic stance includes a very stubborn denial of history. During questioning in parliament on April 23, Abe reiterated wish to reinterpret Japan’s historical record, including its colonial rule of Korea and invasions of China and Southeast Asia. “The definition of what constitutes aggression has yet to be established in academia or in the international community,” he said. “Things that happened between nations will look differently depending on which side you view them from.” That was in response to a question of whether Japan invaded Asian nations.
Abe is trying to keep the Japanese public ignorant of its history. However, a person who turns a blind eye to past wrongdoings can err in other ways too. Abe lacks not only common sense but also any kind of ethical quality to differentiate good from evil. The in-denial Abe discounts apologies given by previous governments - the 1993 statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that apologized for physical and psychological damages and indignities suffered by Asian women recruited by the imperialist government to serve as sex slaves for the Japanese military and the 1995 statement by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama that admitted remorse for colonial rule and acts of aggression and inflicting pain and suffering on the people of other countries. Abe’s schizoid views are caused by a lack of moral decency and therefore may not be curable. He claims that Korean women were not coerced to serve as sex slaves in the Japanese military and that prostitution was commonplace in Korea, claiming that the story about comfort women was fabricated. He is morally nihilistic, refuting facts and historical records.
We were so furious with Abe’s renouncement of past apologies that we forgot the existence of a 1998 joint statement by then-President Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Obuchi Keizo entitled “A New Korea-Japan Partnership Towards the 21st Century.” Murayama did not address his apology specifically to Koreans but to the broader population of Asia, but we accepted it for the sake of future-oriented bilateral ties. The statement following Kim’s visit to Japan, however, specifically addressed Koreans in offering remorse and apologies for past excesses. The second provision of the joint statement said, “Looking back on the relations between Japan and Korea during this century, Prime Minister Obuchi regarded in a spirit of humility the fact of history that Japan caused, during a certain period in the past, tremendous damage and suffering to the people of Korea through its colonial rule, expressed his deep remorse and heartfelt apology for this fact.”
We have to ask Abe whether he dismisses his Liberal Democratic Party predecessor Obuchi’s comments as well. We can understand die-hard nationalism and Abe’s instinct to discredit the achievements of a social-democrat like Murayama. But Obuchi comes from the traditional conservative lineage of the LDP. Thanks to us neglecting to ask whether he rejects the Kim-Obuchi’s joint statement as well, Abe has yet to express his thoughts on it. If he denies the landmark historical accord signed by Obuchi, it would take quite a while to restore the relationship between Korea and Japan. Owing to an ultranationalist political group, the Japan Conference, gaining clout in Japan, and with its planning and support, Abe is expected to reign for a long time. It is Abe’s dilemma that he cannot uphold the Kim-Obuchi declaration while denouncing the Murayama statement.
Since winning a general election and returning as prime minister for the second time, Abe blatantly disavowed Japan’s commitments to international treaties and universal values by pushing his agenda to revive a fully fledged military and promote the emperor’s dignity as in pre-war days. But his actions and ambitions are turning a civilized and cultured Japan into a rogue island nation. The world media has begun to attack Abe’s blatant nationalism. Our society must link up with global nongovernmental organizations to condemn Abe’s outdated ambition and the support he gets from extremist groups like the Japan Conference, which could undermine regional peace and beg the Japanese public to exercise better sense and not be swept up by his nationalistic fervor. We must persuade Japan and the Japanese that Abe’s ultra-rightist agenda is only helping North Korea at a time when the region should be completely united to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons threat.
* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie