Abe expresses ‘grief’ over WWII

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Abe expresses ‘grief’ over WWII

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defied expectations and made a statement commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II that expressed “profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences” for the war.

He did not give an actual apology to lands invaded or colonized, but came closer than was expected. He mentioned women forced into sexual slavery, saying, “We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honor and dignity were severely injured. Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering.

“History is harsh,” Abe continued. “What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dream and beloved family. When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief.”

Abe had been expected to put far more distance between himself and previous prime ministers who commemorated earlier anniversaries with expressions of remorse accepted by countries invaded or colonized, like Korea, China and the Philippines. And his fiercest critics will still say Abe watered down Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s landmark statement in 1995, partly by suggesting that Japan has apologized enough.

“Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war,” he said.

“We have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbors: those in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and China, among others.” He left out North Korea.

“Incident, aggression, war - we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” Abe went on to say that Japan shall “abandon colonial rule forever.”

On Aug. 15, 1995, Murayama in a landmark statement acknowledged that Japan “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.” Calling these “irrefutable facts of history,” he went on to extend his “feelings of deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII.

To mark the 60th anniversary of Japan’s wartime defeat on Aug. 15, 2005, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, echoed Murayama’s general wording.

Under pressure by Washington, Abe has repeatedly said he “will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard,” including in a speech in front of a joint session of the U.S. Congress in April.

Abe’s statement was three times as long as Murayama’s statement 20 years ago. The statement was released both in Japanese and English and also focused on aspects not included in previous statements such as the Manchurian Incident in 1931.

In Korea, it will be pointed out that he did not apologize to the victims of sexual slavery, euphemistically known as the comfort women, or suggest that Japan owes them compensation.

“We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize,” Abe also said. But he added that the Japanese “must squarely face the history of the past.”

Some observers in Seoul are saying that Abe may have done enough to help improve frosty relations between Korea and Japan.

President Park Geun-hye will address Korea’s colonial past with Japan and the future direction of bilateral relations in an annual speech on Liberation Day on Saturday.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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