Singapore’s prime minister on Tuesday urged Japan and its neighbours to put the second world war behind them, saying that if they kept reopening issues dating back to the conflict it would be a “continuing sore” in their relations.
“One of the reasons Japan’s difficulties are not just with China, but with also Korea is because of reopening of issues that go back to the second world war and before, which have never been properly put to rest the way they were put to rest in Europe after the war,” Lee Hsien Loong told a think tank during a visit to Washington.
“So it’s really a sovereign choice for the Japanese to make,” Lee said, adding that he was sure the United States would be urging Japan to “act cautiously and circumspectly and try to develop its relationship with its near neighbourhood.”
The legacy of the war was also a matter for Korea and China, Lee said.
“[Japan] can’t do it themselves. It takes two hands to clap, so you need the Chinese and Koreans as well,” he said.
“Unless you can put the second world war behind you, and not keep on reopening issues of comfort women, of aggression, of whether or not bad things were done during the war, I think this is going to be a continuing sore.”
“Comfort women” is the euphemism for women forced to serve in military brothels serving Japanese soldiers before and during the second world war. Many came from China and Korea.
On Monday, South Korea and China protested against Tokyo’s review of a landmark 1993 apology to such women and said Japan should stop trying to whitewash history.
Seoul accused Tokyo of trying to undermine its own apology by saying that Japan and South Korea had worked together on the sensitive wording.
South Korea says Japan has not sufficiently atoned for the women’s suffering and any attempt at questioning the legitimacy of the apology is an indication of its insincerity.
This and other legacies of Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula has complicated ties between two strong allies of the United States in the region that are also, along with an increasingly assertive China, involved in diplomatic efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
On Monday, Beijing also called on Japan to take steps to handle the problems of its historical legacy.
Japan invaded China in 1937 and ruled parts of it with a brutal hand for eight years, leaving a legacy of bitterness that has been inflamed by recent territorial disputes. Singapore also suffered brutal Japanese occupation from 1942-1945.