U.S. reps advise Abe to apologize

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U.S. reps advise Abe to apologize

In a joint letter to the Japanese ambassador to the United States on Thursday, a bipartisan group of 25 American lawmakers urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to “reaffirm and validate” the apologies expressed by previous leaders.

The appeal sent to Kenichiro Sasae comes less than a week before Abe is scheduled to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress, a first for a Japanese prime minister. Abe’s speech will be closely monitored because it is considered a practice run for a statement in August to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Six Korean leaders, including President Park Geun-hye in 2013, have been invited to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress.

“We respectfully urge the Prime Minister to formally reaffirm and validate the conclusions expressed by previous Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono to ‘squarely face history,’” the 250-word letter read in part.

The past apologies, the letter continued, “signaled two important chapters in Japan’s efforts to improve relations with its neighbors.”

Adding that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the group highlighted it hopes Abe will “take advantage of this auspicious milestone” by addressing historical issues in similar tones.

The group of lawmakers added that the speech comes at a time when “enhanced cooperation between the United States, Japan and Korea, will serve as a linchpin of peace and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region and the broader global community.”

Kono in 1993 apologized for Japan’s wartime aggressions and acknowledged that women were forcefully mobilized to Japanese “comfort stations” by the military to be sex workers. Murayama repeated the apologetic gesture two years later by expressing his “heartfelt apology” to Japan’s neighboring countries for his country’s atrocities.

The 25 congressmen signing the letter included 17 Democrats and eight Republicans, including Rep. Michael Honda of California and Rep. Steve Israel of New York.

In remarks made earlier this week at a conference in Jakarta, Abe hinted that he would not repeat the apologies.

In a speech at the two-day leaders’ summit of the Asian-African Conference, Abe expressed “feelings of deep remorse over the past war.” He stopped short of expressing a “heartfelt apology” to Japan’s victims of colonial rule and aggression before and during World War II.

Earlier this week in an interview with a Japanese broadcaster, Abe said he felt it unnecessary to repeat the apologies for Japan’s wartime actions because he has already declared he would “uphold” statements by previous leaders.

Meanwhile, on the same day U.S. lawmakers jointly called for Abe to atone, three Japanese Cabinet ministers visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine to pay tribute to the country’s war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals.

The shrine is seen by Korea and China, victims of Japan’s wartime aggression and colonial conquest, as a symbol of past imperialism and history of invasion.

Abe sent a ritual offering to the shrine on Tuesday. The last time he visited it was in December 2013, which was harshly criticized by Seoul, Beijing and Washington.

Abe will arrive in the United States for a state visit on Sunday.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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