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Friday, Sept. 15, 2006

Abe holds tongue on Japan's war deeds

Nation ponders front-runner's true stance as diplomats engage China

Staff writer

As the three candidates running for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's job continue to debate the issues, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe has avoided giving clear positions on many of them, particularly Japan's responsibility for the war.

Abe is expected to be elected president of the Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 20 and be made prime minister several days later. So what he has to say about the war responsibility issue could either put Sino-Japanese ties back on track or damage them further.

Chinese leaders have refused to meet Koizumi because of his repeated visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals along with the war dead.

However, in anticipation of a new administration, behind-the-scene negotiations are already under way to arrange a summit with the new leader and end the diplomatic stalemate between the two countries.

"It's true efforts are now being made in various forms" to arrange a summit meeting between a new Japanese leader and his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Monday during a televised debate between the three candidates at the Japan National Press Club.

"It's clear (Beijing) has sent signals" they want to improve the Japan-China relationship, he said.

Abe's strategy has been to keep his opinions to himself about Japan's actions in the 1930s and 1940s.

Conservative politicians have caused diplomatic problems with several Asian countries, particularly China and South Korea, by saying that Japan's military actions in the 1930s and 1940s were not aggression, but self-defense. Some old-guard conservatives even try to publicly justify Japan's invasion of China and the colonization of the Korean Peninsula.

Abe has admitted, when asked directly, that Japan caused great damage and suffering to several Asian countries, particularly China and South Korea.

But he has also asked the question that is on the minds of many people: How many times must Japan apologize?

Abe has stressed that Japan has already settled the issues by signing treaties to normalize diplomatic relations with most countries in the region and has repeatedly apologized to its neighbors.

But he has refused to say whether he accepts the landmark government statement in 1995 that Japan acted aggressively in the 1930s and 1940s.

In the meantime, he is an ardent supporter of Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni.

The 1995 apology, delivered by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan's surrender in 1945, made headlines around the world because it was the first time Tokyo had formally admitted committing aggression.

"Through its colonial rule and aggression, (Japan) caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations," Murayama said in the statement. "I express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology."

The statement has become the backbone of Japan's diplomatic contacts with its Asian neighbors.

Koizumi reaffirmed that position in April 2005 at a summit of Asian and African leaders in Indonesia. However, the speech did not win him any points from China and South Korea, which continued to complain about his annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine -- something he refused to give up.

Abe has not openly contradicted the 1995 statement, but at the same time, he has not said he supports it, either.

"The 'Murayama statement' is the one adopted by Cabinet. . . . I think its spirit will be maintained (by governments) into the future," Abe said during Monday's public debate. "But, on the other hand, the analyses of historical facts should be left primarily to historians."

Some experts and government officials believe that Chinese leaders, despite the thorny historical issues, are eager to improve ties with Japan because they need Japan's investment, technology and other economic cooperation to sustain its economic growth in the long term.

China "is now trying to build a balanced economy. They understand they need Japan's expertise and experience for that purpose," said professor Tomoyuki Kojima, a China expert at Keio University.

For Abe, too, improving ties with China appears to be an urgent issue, because some observers have said his hawkishness could further damage Tokyo's relationships with Beijing and Seoul and subsequently reduce Japan's power and influence in the region.

Abe has pledged to improve Sino-Japanese ties.

"I want to make an effort to prepare the environment" for a summit with China, Abe said in the debate.

In the meantime, if Abe ever does decide to talk about Japan's dark past, he will do it only after the new prime minister has been selected, two close aides said.

"It's a topic he should discuss only after he is elected as a prime minister," said aide and Senior Vice Foreign Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki.

20 years of controversy, apology

Below is a 20-year chronology of Japanese politicians' apologies and scandals related to Japan's conduct in Asia in the 1930s and 1940s.

Sept. 8, 1986 -- Education Minister Masayuki Fujio is dismissed after defending Japan's 1910 annexation of the Korean Peninsula.

May 13, 1988 -- National Land Agency chief Seisuke Okuno is forced to resign after denying Japan intended to wage a war of aggression against China.

Oct. 23, 1992 -- Emperor Akihito visits China and admits Japan inflicted "great suffering" on the Chinese people during the war, saying he "deeply deplores this."

Aug. 4, 1993 -- Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admits Asian women were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during the war and extends an apology on behalf of the government.

Aug. 10, 1993 -- Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa becomes the first Japanese prime minister to call Japan's conduct in the 1930s and 1940s "a war of aggression."

May 7, 1994 -- Justice Minister Shigeto Nagato is forced to resign after claiming the 1937 Nanjing Massacre never happened and that Japan's invasion of China was not an act of aggression.

Aug. 14, 1994 -- Environmental Agency chief Shin Sakurai is forced to step down after denying Japan intended to act aggressively when it entered China.

Aug. 25, 1995 -- Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama expresses a "heartfelt apology" for Japan's wars, saying it "caused tremendous damage and suffering" to Asian nations "through its colonial rule and aggression."

Nov. 13, 1995 -- Management and Coordination Agency chief Takami Eto is forced to resign after saying Japan's colonization of the Korean Peninsula "did some good things" for Koreans.

Aug. 13, 2001 -- Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine for the first time since being elected prime minister in April that year.

Oct. 8, 2001 -- Koizumi visits the Marco Polo Bridge in China and apologizes for Japan's "aggression" against China.

April 21, 2002 -- Koizumi makes second visit to Yasukuni Shrine.

Jan. 14, 2003 -- Koizumi makes third visit to Yasukuni Shrine.

Jan. 1, 2004 -- Koizumi makes fourth visit to Yasukuni Shrine.

April 22, 2005 -- Koizumi, echoing words from Murayama's 1995 statement, expresses his "deep remorse and heartfelt apology" for Japan's "colonial rule and aggression" during a meeting of leaders from Asia and Africa in Indonesia.

Oct. 17, 2005 -- Koizumi makes fifth visit to Yasukuni Shrine.

Aug. 15, 2006 -- Koizumi makes final official visit to Yasukuni Shrine on the anniversary of Japan's surrender to the Allied Powers.

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