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Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2006
Abe noncommittal on war stance
But Asia may not warm to 'humble' lack of clear position
By MASAMI ITO
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged Japan's wartime aggression but avoided giving his own opinion on the issue while speaking Tuesday at a Lower House plenary session.
The hawkish Abe's position, or lack of, on Japan's responsibility for the war is likely to have a major impact on his efforts to improve strained relations with China and South Korea.
Conservative politicians have sought to justify Japan's conquest and occupation of Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, terming the actions self-defense, not aggression, triggering outrage by those areas that suffered under Japan's expansionist policies and colonial rule.
"I believe that politicians should be humble about speaking about war or history . . . because a politician's statements hold political and diplomatic meaning," Abe said during the Diet session.
While declining to state his personal views, Abe said his government stands by the "historical statement" made in 1995 by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
In an unprecedented move, on Aug. 15 1995, the 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender, Murayama officially apologized for Japan's past aggression and for "following a mistaken national policy."
"Through its colonial rule and aggression, (Japan) caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to Asian nations," Murayama said in the statement.
"In the hope that no such mistake will be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here, once again, my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology."
In April 2005, Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, also reaffirmed the Murayama statement.
During Tuesday's plenary session, Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii demanded that Abe state his position on the treatment of the "comfort women," wartime sex slaves who were forced to serve Japanese soldiers.
Shii pointed out that during a Diet session in 1997, Abe demanded "a modification" to the apology.
In 1993, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono said in a statement that "the former Imperial Japanese Army was directly or indirectly involved in establishing and managing facilities for transporting" comfort women.
On Tuesday, however, Abe stated the government stands behind the 1993 statement.
Meanwhile, Abe heatedly denied Shii's remark that he was trying to change the pacifist Constitution to permit the Self-Defense Forces to go to war.
"Criticism that (our) purpose for revising the Constitution is to create a country that will engage in war overseas is completely off the target," Abe said, raising his voice.
But he failed to give any details about how he intended to revise the charter's Article 9, which prohibits collective defense and limits Japan's use of force only to self-defense.
Instead, he said further study needs to be conducted, taking into consideration domestic discussions over the Constitution as well as the changes in international society and the advancement in arms technology, the proliferation of missiles and the war on terrorism.
On Yasukuni Shrine, which honors the nation's war dead, as well as 14 Class-A war criminals, Abe again refused to say whether he will visit the shrine.
He previously backed Koizumi's shrine visits and has gone several times himself, including last April, when he was chief Cabinet secretary. Koizumi's visits have sparked friction with China and South Korea, and the leaders of the two countries refused to hold summits with Koizumi because of the visits.
U.S. hails summits
WASHINGTON (Kyodo) The United States on Monday welcomed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plans to visit China and South Korea in an effort to mend strained ties.
"We do encourage those contacts and hope that they will continue to work on a positive relationship," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.
Casey stressed the U.S. has no intention of interfering with or mediating efforts by the three countries to improve relations strained by the visits by Abe's predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, to Yasukuni Shrine and various territorial disputes.
"This is really a matter for those countries to work out and to discuss on their own," Casey said. "We definitely want to see Japan have positive relations with all its neighbors, including (South) Korea and China."
Noting that China, South Korea and Japan cooperated with the U.S. in having the U.N. Security Council adopt a resolution condemning North Korea's July missile launches, Casey said, "That's simply one of the ways in which they are all cooperating together with each other as well as with us to do something that's in the interest of the broader international community."