HONOLULU/TOKYO • Japanese Pri- me Minister Shinzo Abe stopped at several memorials in Hawaii on Monday, one day before he was to visit the site of the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbour during a trip intended to show a strong alliance between his country and the United States.
Mr Abe made no public remarks and stood in silence before a wreath of flowers at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, a memorial to those who died while serving in the US armed forces.
At the Makiki Cemetery in Honolulu, dedicated to Japanese who settled in Hawaii in the 1800s, Mr Abe bowed his head before wreaths of white flowers and greenery laid at the feet of stone monuments. He was joined by two of his Cabinet members.
The crowning event of the trip was scheduled to take place yesterday (today, Singapore time), when the Japanese Prime Minister and US President Barack Obama were to visit Pearl Harbour, the site of the Japanese attack 75 years ago that drew the US into World War II. Mr Abe does not plan to apologise for the 1941 attack but to console the souls of those who died in the war, his aides said this month.
Japan hopes to present a strong alliance with the US amid concerns about China's expanding military capability. Japan was monitoring a group of Chinese warships that entered the top half of the South China Sea earlier on Monday.
"I am very much looking forward to sending out a strong message on the value of reconciliation, as well as our sincere prayer for the souls of the war dead," Mr Abe said through an interpreter.
Mr Abe has called US-Japan relations an "alliance of hope", and said that the devastation of war should not be repeated.
In China, where the government has repeatedly urged Japan to show greater repentance for World War II and its invasion of China, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said it was "wishful thinking" if Mr Abe hoped to use the visit to "settle the accounts" for the war.
"No matter the posture, no matter what show is put on, only sincere reflection can realise the key to reconciliation," Ms Hua told reporters.
Japanese leaders hope to send a message of unity as well to President-elect Donald Trump, who triggered concerns before his Nov 8 election by opposing the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and threatening to force allied countries to pay more to host US forces.
Mr Abe has tightened ties with Washington during his four years in office, stretching the limits of Japan's pacifist Constitution and boosting defence spending.
Mr Abe's visit will come seven months after Mr Obama became the first serving US president to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where the US dropped an atomic bomb in the closing days of the war in 1945.
When Mr Abe announced this month that he would visit Pearl Harbour, Japan's Foreign Ministry indicated that he would be the first sitting Japanese prime minister to visit the site. It now appears that he is the fourth. News reports emerged that a predecessor, Mr Shigeru Yoshida, had stopped in Hawaii in 1951 on his way home from signing a treaty in San Francisco and had paid a quiet visit to Pearl Harbour.
Last week, a Japanese-language newspaper in Hawaii reported it had found in its archives articles about two other visits there by sitting Japanese prime ministers in the 1950s, including Mr Abe's grandfather Nobusuke Kishi.
In response to the reports, Japanese officials are characterising Mr Abe's visit as the first by a sitting prime minister with a US president to the memorial.