Post-war closure necessary for progress

In his address last Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made eloquent reference to "immeasurable damage and suffering", as well as "profound grief and eternal sincere condolences" ("Abe sticks to past WWII apologies"; last Saturday).

Instead of offering an unambiguous apology, however, Mr Abe used these deliberately vague turns of phrase to avoid directly confronting contentious issues, such as the comfort women system or the whitewashing of atrocities.

Indeed, China and South Korea have been unimpressed by these half-hearted overtures.

Even if we take Mr Abe at his word, his government has yet to back up all the rhetoric with follow-up action.

For instance, the government's decisions to overturn Japan's pacifist doctrine by constitutional amendments, and re-arm the military, have been interpreted by neighbouring states as harbouring belligerent intent.

Japan's school system continues to use textbooks that omit or gloss over wartime human rights violations, such as the Rape of Nanking.

These policy decisions undertaken by the Abe administration seem to show a lack of sustained good faith.

Post-war Japanese politicians should understand that closure is necessary for progress, in which we remember and respect history but the feeling of pain has disappeared.

Therefore, instead of continuing to drag along this historical baggage, Japan should follow the example of Germany in unreservedly coming to terms with its World War II history. This would require an unmitigated official apology.

Furthermore, Japan should demonstrate its sincerity and resolve with explicit initiatives.

This could include compensation to survivors of wartime horrors - such as former comfort women and forced labourers - as well as making donations towards the construction of war memorials in formerly occupied countries.

Until political leaders can work together towards resolving sources of conflict and fostering peaceful cooperation, the countries of Asia risk letting history repeat itself.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2015, with the headline 'Post-war closure necessary for progress'. Print Edition | Subscribe