Shinzo Abe

Abe likely to anger neighbours with war revision

PM likely to anger neighbours with calls for proclamation on issues like 'comfort women'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 March, 2013, 2:32am

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said a new statement should be issued in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, although the contents of the planned proclamation are likely to arouse anger in Japan's neighbours.

In the latest edition of the Monthly Chosun, a South Korean magazine, which went on sale on Monday, Abe said in his interview with the publication that he would heed the opinions of historians and experts on issues such as the "comfort women", who were forced to become sex slaves of Japanese troops in parts of Asia occupied by Japan.

Abe's position in the debate over the comfort women has been made clear before. In 2007, during his previous spell as prime minister, he triggered a storm of protests when he claimed no concrete evidence had been found that proved women were forcibly recruited to serve in military brothels.

That suggests he agrees with the arguments put forward by nationalist groups - such as the Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact -that said comfort women were little more than licensed prostitutes who were paid well for their services, while others were sold into the sex trade by impoverished parents.

Another event that might be subject to an official reinterpretation is the Nanking massacre, which some in Japan already protest is merely Chinese propaganda. There have also been hints that the Liberal Democratic Party-led government is also looking to rehabilitate the reputations of the political and military leaders convicted of Class-A war crimes by the allied forces.

New emphasis may be laid on the benefits that Japanese colonial rule brought to other parts of Asia, particularly the Korean Peninsula, although historians do not believe that Abe would go as far as to repeat the claim by some on the extreme right that America and European countries provoked Japan into igniting the war.

In private, Abe might have sympathy with those positions, but it is doubtful that he would risk Japan's security alliance and economic ties with America.

"Mr Abe has said that he wants the Japanese to be more confident of themselves and their history," said Go Ito, a professor of international relations at Tokyo's Meiji University. "He has said the description of Japanese history is 'humiliating' in the past and that he wants to change that.

[Abe] has said the description of Japanese history is 'humiliating' in the past and that he wants to change that

"He wants to change our interpretation of history and take us off in a more nationalist direction."

And Abe seems to have the support of the public. The approval rating of his cabinet has bucked the trend of the last five prime ministers by rising in the months after election, and was up to a remarkable 72 per cent in a poll conducted by the Yomiuri newspaper over the weekend.

The government, elected with a huge majority in December's general election, faces a new round of voting, for the Upper House, in July.

Should Abe's party fare well in that election - and the signs are that the LDP will once again emerge victorious - then Abe might take that as a vindication of his nationalistic views.