Japan’s Abe has no will or desire to apologise for atrocities

Visit of defence minister to the Yasukuni shrine shows the Japanese government’s true sentiments

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 1:16am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 1:16am

The sincerity of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit of reconciliation to Pearl Harbour was always in doubt; he made no apology for the attack 75 years ago, nor broached the atrocities his country’s imperial army committed in Asia and the Pacific. Instead, he chose to focus on the future, stressing as he stood beside outgoing US President Barack Obama Japan’s commitment to never again wage war. Ignoring the past at the place where 2,400 Americans were killed is insensitive, but in keeping with a refusal to acknowledge that wrongdoing occurred. His government’s true sentiments were evident the following day when Defence Minister Tomomi Inada, having just returned from the ceremony in Hawaii, went to the Yasukuni shrine to honour those who fought in the conflict.

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Yasukuni honours the souls of 2.46 million people, among them many soldiers including 12 convicted class A war criminals. China and South Korea, which bore the brunt of the Japanese military invasion and occupation before and during the second world war, were rightly outraged by Inada’s visit. A defender of Japan’s invasions and wars and regarded as a historical revisionist, she has visited the shrine many times, but this was her first since becoming defence minister four months ago. Her explanation that she was paying tribute to “those who dedicated their lives to their country” was bound to heighten the anger. Abe, also a right-leaning nationalist, has at least had the good sense to avoid going there since December 2013, when a similar storm of protest followed his appearance.

That time, the US, Japan’s staunchest ally, also objected. But Washington has since pushed for closer ties and Obama took a major step towards reconciliation seven months ago by becoming the first sitting American leader to go to Hiroshima, where the first of two US atomic bombs that brought an end to the war were dropped. Abe’s Pearl Harbour trip was equally symbolic, although the idea of the alliance being strengthened as he and the US leader pledged is a moot point. In just 21 days, Donald Trump takes over as US president and he has suggested there may be a need to recast the relationship.

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There have been calls for Abe to go to Nanjing, where 300,000 Chinese were killed by Japanese soldiers in 1937, to begin the process of reconciliation with China. But as repeated missed opportunities to apologise and show genuine remorse have proven, he has no such will or desire. Only when there are words and deeds of sincerity will that be possible.