Seoul: Sincere action more important than words

An elderly South Korean man watching as Japanese PM Shinzo Abe delivers his World War II anniversary statement.
An elderly South Korean man watching as Japanese PM Shinzo Abe delivers his World War II anniversary statement.PHOTO: EPA

South Korea's Foreign Minister gave a prudent response to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's World War II anniversary statement yesterday, saying the government will issue an official response only after analysing his words.

Mr Yun Byung Se did, however, note that "sincere action" is more important than words.

Mr Abe expressed "profound grief" towards those who died in the war and pledged that Japan will never wage a war again, but did not offer a clear apology of his own.

His speech came on the eve of South Korea's Liberation Day, which marks the 70th anniversary of independence from Japan's 35-year colonial rule.

 

Abe sticks to past WWII apologies

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bowing as he left a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo yesterday after delivering a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bowing as he left a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo yesterday after delivering a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
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PHOTO: REUTERS

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe endorsed apologies by his predecessors for the "immeasurable damage and suffering" his nation caused in World War II, while suggesting that future generations of Japanese should be spared the need to continue expressing regret.

"Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war," Mr Abe said yesterday, the eve of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. "Such a position articulated by the previous Cabinets will remain unshakeable into the future."

He sketched Japan's actions against a backdrop of the isolation suffered after the launch of economic blocs by Western colonialists and its attempt to break out of this through the use of force. Thus, he said, Japan became a challenger to the international economic order and, without strong political checks at home, entered war.

But the lessons learnt from its folly had been engraved in the national conscience.

"I express my profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences," the 60-year-old premier said.

 

His much-awaited statement, which did not include a fresh apology, looked carefully tailored to walk a fine line between critics who see him as a revisionist of Japan's wartime past and his right-wing base that feels Japan has expressed enough remorse.

The statement also drew attention to Japan's post-war pacifism and its development aid to Asia.

But it will likely not be seen as adequate by many in South Korea and China, the two countries that suffered the most under Japanese occupation.

The official Xinhua news agency called Mr Abe's statement a "retrogression" from the 1995 statement by then Premier Tomiichi Murayama that admitted Japan's militarist past. A headline from South Korea's Yonhap news agency said: "Abe skips his own apology".

That aside, his address will also be examined for foreign policy intent. Japan will never again use force or the threat of force to settle disputes, Mr Abe said. He also stressed respect for the rule of law in settling disputes and vowed to work closely with countries that, like Japan, stand for "freedom, democracy and human rights".

Mr Abe, who forsook his usual dark suits for a less sombre light grey one, expressed gratitude to nations such as China and the US that had made efforts towards reconciliation after the war.

While the past had to be accepted with humility, Japan must not let its post-war and future generations "be predestined to apologise", he said, referring to his own people, 80 per cent of whom were born after World War II.

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Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe endorsed apologies by his predecessors for the "immeasurable damage and suffering" his nation caused in World War II, while suggesting that future generations of Japanese should be spared the need to continue expressing regret.
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 South Korean President Park Geun Hye, who had urged Japan to "display sincerity in its commitment to  renew relations with its neighbours", is expected to address Mr Abe's comments in her Liberation Day speech today.

 

Reactions in Asia and US to Abe's WWII remarks

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A rally outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong yesterday, the day Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe made a statement ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
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A rally outside the Japanese consulate in Hong Kong yesterday, the day Japanese Premier Shinzo Abe made a statement ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
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China reacted with disappointment - not anger, as some might have feared - at the lack of a clear apology and direct expression of remorse from Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over its war-time actions.

A commentary by the official Xinhua news agency called Mr Abe's remarks yesterday a "retrogression" from a 1995 statement which admitted Japan's war past and expressed "deep remorse" and a "heartfelt apology" for its war crimes.

"Closely watched both at home and abroad, Abe trod a fine line with linguistic tricks, attempting to please his right-wing base on the one hand and to avoid further damage in Japan's ties with its neighbours on the other," the commentary added.

It also dismissed Mr Abe's statement - delivered to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II today - that Japan's post-war generations who have nothing to do with the war should not be "predestined to apologise".

"Those countries which suffered from Japan's aggression will never forget that dark period of history, as Japanese will always remember the horrific scenes of A-bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki," it wrote.

Japan occupied north-east China from 1931 and launched a full-scale invasion in 1937. Japan surrendered on Aug 15, 1945 after the US dropped atomic bombs on the country. China's World War II casualties range from 15 million to 20 million.

 

Chinese netizens displayed wide- ranging responses: Some welcomed the indirect apology, others said China should not be too hung up on the issue, while one challenged Mr Abe to attend the parade at Tiananmen Square on Sept 3 to prove his "profound grief".

Chinese observers believe the government is likely to react with restraint to Mr Abe's statement as he at least stood by past apologies.

Peking University's North-east Asian expert Wang Dong said China places more emphasis on Mr Abe's actions than on his words.

"We have to wait and see if he lives up to his promises in his speech of contributing to peace and prosperity. Also, if future Japan leaders are more right-leaning than Abe, we will have to hold them accountable," said Professor Wang.

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 The nationalist Mr Abe has been accused of downplaying Japan's war crimes and not directly addressing the  sufferings of Korean people during the war, especially of military sexual slaves. Hundreds of thousands of Koreans died in the war.

 

Mr Abe said Japan has "repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology", but suggested that future generations should not have to apologise.

Yonhap news agency said the statement fell short of South Korea's expectations.

Hanyang University Emeritus Professor Im Kay Soon felt that Mr Abe was "not sincere enough".

"He doesn't want the future generation to carry the burden of Japan's past, and yet, he himself doesn't want to shoulder the responsibility of admitting Japan's past wrongdoings," she added.

Meanwhile, netizens are split between anger and resignation.

Some want South Korea to stop "begging for an apology" and focus on becoming stronger than Japan instead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'Seoul: Sincere action more important than words'. Print Edition | Subscribe