Japan’s two-faced historical legacy

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Japan’s two-faced historical legacy

The Japanese lower house passed through a series of controversial security legislations to enable the country to exercise its right to collective self-defense for the first time since World War II.

The Diet rubber-stamped 11 security bills that would allow its Self-Defense Forces to assist its allies abroad, even when there is no direct threat to Japan, as tens of thousands of Japanese citizens took to the streets to protest Japan’s step back from its pacifist legacy. The bills are likely to be final once approved by the upper house, where a coalition of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Komeito Party hold a majority.

The legislation is a victory for the right-wing prime minister, who has been championing his military agenda. The right to exercise self-defense is also promoted by the United Nations, and as a member of the international community, Japan is entitled to that right.

Violent protests at home and abroad, however, underscore concerns about Japan’s revisionist interpretation of its decades-old pacifist Constitution. Eight out of 10 Japanese people believe the government has not fully explained the purpose of the legislation and a half thinks it goes against its peaceful constitution. Neighboring countries like China and Korea, with bitter memories of aggression and war, are concerned that Japan could fall into the temptation of militarism. From Abe’s track record, they can’t be blamed for being suspicious of Tokyo’s renewed military ambitions.

Japan won Unesco World Cultural Heritage Status for 23 industrial sites after acknowledging that Koreans were “brought against their will and forced to work under severe conditions” in some of them. But the foreign minister and prime minister later denied that any forced labor took place. It’s also poised to refrain from discerning the nationalities of the workers in its explanations at its memorial centers - which means Korea’s victims wouldn’t be fully recognized.

Japan has long been two-faced about its past. Mitsubishi, for instance, which refused to apologize for drafting Korean workers, apologized to its American victims and their families. We will be closely watching what Abe says in his statement in August marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 17, Page 30

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