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Legacy of war in Asia

Abe's insincere war remarks leave a sour note among Japan's neighbours

The PM is a master of rhetoric, yet avoided making an apology of his own

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 1:21am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 August, 2015, 1:21am

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war should have been aimed at reconciliation with China and other nations brutalised by its imperial army.

Regrettably, it was insincere, paying lip service to the remarks of previous leaders in the belief that nothing more, ever, is needed for present and future generations to put history behind them and end regional tensions.

He used all the terms Chinese, Koreans and others in Asia wanted to hear: "Apology", "aggression", "colonial domination" and "deep remorse". But the manner in which he used them ignored the gravity of the atrocities committed and guaranteed continued negativity.

Abe is a master of rhetoric and there was no shortage in his words. He avoided the facts of Japan's invasion and occupation, instead offering the version he and his supporters promote. Predecessor Tomiichi Murayama, in commemorating the 50th anniversary, acknowledged wartime aggression, expressed remorse and apologised to victims.

Abe merely acknowledged this, neglecting to make an apology of his own.

The issue of "comfort women" - the Chinese and Koreans forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers - was raised, but their ordeal avoided through reference to "women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured".

Especially jarring was his contention that his country had done all it could and, having learned the lessons of war and defeat, must now strive to attain ambitions.

"We must not let our children, grandchildren and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologise," he said.

There are certainly Japanese who feel successive governments have apologised enough, but they ignore the repeated remarks and actions of ministers that show a lack of sincerity.

For one, while Abe did not personally go yesterday to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine where soldiers, including war criminals, are remembered - as he has done in the past - he did send an offering and several members of his cabinet visited.

In contrast to Abe's expression on Friday of "utmost grief" at Japan's war actions, Emperor Akihito, who as the monarch is above politics, yesterday strayed from his usual script and offered "deep remorse".

It was in effect a rebuke to the prime minister's hasty attempt to bury the past. Although Abe spoke of peace and an eagerness to make amends with neighbours, his track record says otherwise. Until his actions and words match, Japan's relations with the region will remain fraught.