TOKYO >> Two former political leaders who apologized over Japan’s World War II atrocities said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should not water down their words when he marks the 70th anniversary of the war’s end.
Japanese leaders’ war anniversary statements have always been closely watched, and this year’s is getting extra attention because it’s a key anniversary and Abe is considered a revisionist.
Former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who authored Japan’s landmark 1995 apology on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, said Abe should "honestly spell out" the country’s wartime actions to address growing international concern that he may revise history.
Yohei Kono, who as chief Cabinet secretary in 1993 apologized to victims of Japan’s wartime military sexual exploitation, said he wondered whether a new statement by Abe is even necessary. He said a statement to mark the 70th anniversary, if issued, should not backpedal from any of the apologies that Abe promised to inherit from nearly a dozen past leaders.
"The international community is watching what (Abe) is really thinking," Murayama told reporters during a rare joint appearance with Kono at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
"It is important to clear any doubts that he has raised overseas," Murayama said.
The historic statements by both men were highly regarded internationally as signs Japan had come to terms with its wartime past and they improved relations with its Asian neighbors. However, both statements have become unpopular among Japanese conservatives who say Japan should stop focusing on negative history to restore national pride.
Kono warned that any attempt to whitewash historical facts "hurts the Japanese people’s reputation."
Since taking office in December 2012, Abe has said he would not necessarily follow the Murayama apology. He also has said there is no evidence that so-called comfort women were exploited through coercion by Japanese authorities, remarks seen by critics as undermining the Kono apology. But, after criticism from China and South Korea, Abe later promised not to change either of the statements.
Tokyo’s relations with the two victims of its wartime militarism have worsened under Abe’s leadership, particularly with South Korea — a former Japanese colony where many of the sex slaves were from.
Abe has given mixed signals as to how closely his upcoming statement will mirror Murayama’s apology. He is seen as avoiding the terms aggression, colonial rule and atrocities, including "comfort women."
Murayama and Kono said those were undeniable historical facts that must be remembered to maintain trust and confidence.
Abe has convened experts to advise him on what to say. In his past Aug. 15 speeches, Abe omitted war apologies. He merely said Japan faces its past and keeps its peace pledges.
Murayama said Tuesday that the point is not for Abe to offer an empty apology, but to show the world that Japan’s leader has squarely faced the country’s wartime past and pursued its pacifist pledges.