A conscience in Japan

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A conscience in Japan

On Monday, a group of 16 Japanese intellectuals, including scholars and former high-ranking government officials, launched an association aimed at defending the Murayama Statement. In a press conference in Tokyo, they said the group aims to revive the spirit of the statement by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in which he expressed remorse and apologized for Japan’s past aggressions and colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

While expressing serious concerns about the retrogressive historical views of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of the most right-wing politicians in Japan in decades, the group stressed that it will make efforts to help Japanese citizens regain an impartial historical perspective. In other words, Japan’s civil society is starting a crusade to hold the Abe Cabinet’s militant nationalism in check.

In April, Abe said, “I want to say that the term ‘aggression’ was not defined internationally or academically. In a relationship between two countries, it depends on which one defines it.” Those remarks were part of his determination to back away from or repudiate the Murayama Statement of Aug. 15, 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, an official Japanese government apology for the atrocities the country committed in the past. Since his shocking remarks in April, Abe has been maintaining quite ambiguous positions on historical issues and constantly altering his words in the face of an avalanche of criticisms both at home and abroad. Certainly, however, we can hardly imagine Abe reneging on his campaign promise in the general election last year to backpedal on the Murayama Statement.

Trilateral relations among Korea, China and Japan have been enhanced since the 1995 Murayama Statement despite the twists and turns of events over the past 18 years. However, right-wing politicians in Japan, buoyed by the nationalist mood sweeping Japanese society since Abe took the helm of the once-pacifist nation for his second term as prime minister, are increasingly regressing to a militarist path under the leadership of Abe. As a result, the political situation of Northeast Asia is becoming shakier than ever as seen by the leaders of Korea and China’s stern refusal to have a summit with the Japanese prime minister.

We believe it is best that such an alarming rightist movement in Japan be dealt with by the Japanese people themselves. In that sense, it is fortunate that a group of opinion leaders in Japan is taking the lead in such an effort. We hope its activities contribute to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia.
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