Listen to the voices of conscienceNearly 300 Japanese intellectuals issued a joint statement to the press urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to clearly acknowledge and apologize for Japan’s wartime crimes and brutalities in an upcoming address in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The statement, signed by 281 scholars including Haruki Wada, an emeritus professor at Tokyo University, demanded that Abe deliver a message of remorse that reaffirms Japan’s invasion and occupation of several Asian countries, including Korea and China, and acknowledge the damage inflicted.
Tokyo has been poised to take an apologetic tone in Abe’s address. But it will not transcend earlier landmark statements made by past Japanese leaders apologizing for the country’s colonial aggressions - and it will likely omit words like “aggression” and “colonial rule.” The head of an advisory panel guiding the wording and content of the statement is said to have opposed the Japanese leader repeating apologies. Yet, Abe’s deviation from previous statements of contrition has raised worries at home and abroad, worsening relations with neighboring countries. Abe was strongly criticized by historians worldwide after he fell short of expressing his remorse for Japan’s wartime atrocities during his address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in April. Sixteen history-related organizations with more than 2,000 members issued a statement calling for the government to stop whitewashing its military past. Similar criticisms were issued by former leaders, including former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, the author of the 1993 Kono Statement that acknowledged and apologized for Japan’s forced recruitment and enslavement of thousands of Asian women in frontline brothels.
A poll by Kyoto News Agency last month showed that 54.5 percent of the general Japanese population believed Abe’s statement should include words like “remorse” and “apology.”
Abe must pay heed to the greater voice of his people and those overseas. Tokyo must be fully aware that its relationship with Seoul hinges on the wording and tone of Abe’s statement, with his revisionist view having been the primary stumbling block of the three-year impasse in bilateral relations. If Abe really wants to pave the way for a future-oriented relationship with Korea, he must first set the record straight on the past.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 9, Page 30