Japan's new Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga recently said that the newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his cabinet will follow the statement issued in 1995 by then prime minister Tomiichi Murayama regarding Japan's actions toward its Asian neighbors during World War II, and will issue a statement that suits the 21st century, according to the Japan Daily Press.
The announcement soon caught worldwide attention, especially from East Asian countries.
Japan's wartime aggression brought catastrophe to East Asian countries. Whether Japan will admit to its history will determine if the problems left by the war are properly handled, whether the Japanese government chooses a path of war or peace, and whether East Asia and even the whole world will remain peaceful.
The Murayama statement is an apology responding to that history. It said, "During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations."
Murayama also expressed his "feelings of deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology." He stressed, "we should bear in mind that we must look into the past to learn from the lessons of history, and ensure that we do not stray from the path to the peace and prosperity of human society in the future."
The Murayama statement can be considered as the most positive one ever made by the Japanese government after the war. However, those countries that were invaded by Japan and some Japanese people who advocate peace still find it far from satisfactory. Murayama recalled obstacles when he prepared the statement. For example, he felt hesitant over words such as "aggressive act" and "aggressive war." As the word "aggressive war" was greatly debated, he finally used "aggression." However, the statement has been rebuked by Japanese right-wingers.
Regarding the issue of comfort women, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe once denied any coercion in the narrow sense. Before he was elected this time, he expressed regret that he hadn't visited the Yasukuni Shrine during his first tenure as prime minister, and paid a visit there in October 2012. It's natural that people feel alert to the new remarks that the hawkish Abe will make on the Murayama statement.
Suga claimed that Abe's statement will be a "future-oriented" one. But there are three aspects that Abe needs to think about. First, the current reality is a continuation of history. Without having a correct understanding of history, it is impossible to get onto the right direction for the future.
Meanwhile, in the 21st century, common interests of humanity will constantly expand. Peace, development and cooperation are the major demands of the international community. Under such circumstances, does amending the Peace Constitution conform to the trend of the times?
Last, if Japan does not recognize its territorial disputes with China while trying to gain a strategic advantage over it, will this do any good to Sino-Japanese relations?
Abe should think twice before he makes any remarks.
The author is director of the Center for Japanese Studies of Shanghai Jiao Tong University. email@example.com