Japan misses another opportunity to atone for wartime atrocities
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to offer an apology during his historic visit to Pearl Harbour and until his country does so sincerely, the wounds will not heal
Apology and forgiveness are essential for conflict resolution. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered nor sought either during his symbolic visit to Pearl Harbour to mark the 75th anniversary of the attack by imperial Japan that drew the US into the second world war. Standing beside outgoing US President Barack Obama, he instead commemorated the lives lost and pledged his country would never again wage war. Promising that there would be no repeat of the atrocities that were committed is a welcome message, but is obviously not enough for Chinese and Koreans who suffered at Japanese hands in the past and feel threatened by the leader’s hawkish policies.
Abe was the first serving Japanese leader to go to Pearl Harbour, where 2,400 Americans were killed in air raids. His visit followed Obama’s equally landmark trip seven months ago to Hiroshima, the first of two cities devastated by American atomic bomb strikes that led to Japan’s surrender in August 1945. The US leader also made no apology, but he had no reason to; the conflict had already claimed millions of lives and many more would have been lost had drastic action not been taken. Japan’s surprise raids on US soil were aimed at destroying the US Pacific Fleet to prevent it from joining allies in taking back territory conquered in Southeast Asia.
Abe and Obama also held their last bilateral meeting, discussing security and economic and global challenges. It was a chance for the Japanese leader to strengthen ties with the US that seem likely to be complicated by Republican president-elect Donald Trump’s taking office on January 20. The incoming leader has said that on his first day in office, he will scrap Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade pact, which Japan had counted on to revitalise its economy, and has suggested Japanese should pay all the costs of hosting American troops or face their withdrawal. Abe was the first foreign leader Trump met, but details of their talks in New York in November are scant.
US military involvement in the region has long been a source of tension for China. Abe’s revisionist approach to history and push to revise his country’s pacifist constitution to enable a fighting rather than a self-defence force have further raised the heat. Trump’s presidency creates uncertainty that has not been lessened by the attempts by Abe and Obama to reinforce their nations’ partnership. The failure of Japan to offer an apology shows, as has been the case with Abe’s previous missed opportunities to do so to China and other Asian countries, a lack of will for genuine reconciliation.