The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research


The Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research

Is Historical Reconciliation Possible? A Seventieth Anniversary Assessment (2)

November 30, 2015

On July 6, 2015, with Prime Minister Abe’s much-anticipated 70th Anniversary Statement in the offing, the Tokyo Foundation held a forum to explore the challenges of historical reconciliation in the context of Japan’s relations with China, South Korea, and the United States. In Part 2 (abridged), the panelists review progress and setbacks to date and discuss what it will take to complete the reconciliation process. (Read Part 1)

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From left: Shin Kawashima, Jun
From left: Shin Kawashima, Jun'ya Nishino, Tsuneo Watanabe, and Yuichi Hosoya. 

YUICHI HOSOYA: Let’s turn now to my second question: How should we assess Japan’s postwar record? What have we done—and what haven’t we done—to achieve historical reconciliation over the past seven decades? We’ll begin with Japan-China relations.

SHIN KAWASHIMA: China celebrates its victory in World War II on September 3, and this year it will be marked by a military parade. Why does China use this date, rather than August 15, when Japan surrendered? This goes back to the fact that Japan officially signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2 and that a victory parade was held by the Kuomintang government the following day in Chongqing. The Communist-led People’s Republic of China that later drove the Kuomintang off the mainland initially marked China’s victory over Japan on August 15 but later moved the date to September 3 to align with the Soviet practice. The PRC has also designated December 13 as a national day of remembrance for the Nanjing incident.

In assessing our bilateral ties, let’s start with a quick overview of the postwar period.

When Japan surrendered in 1945, there were more than a million Japanese troops in China, and the Chinese set about disarming and repatriating them in a businesslike fashion with a minimum of fuss. One reason was that neither the ruling Kuomintang nor the rival Communists wanted to turn the Japanese soldiers against them.

On October 1, 1949, the Communist Party founded the People’s Republic of China, with its capital in Beijing. Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, meanwhile, fled to Taiwan and declared Taipei the temporary capital of the Republic of China. From then on there were essentially two Chinese governments. Japan had to choose one with which to negotiate a peace and establish official diplomatic relations. Both Chinas wanted Japan’s recognition, but with the Cold War escalating and spreading to East Asia, Tokyo had no alternative but to recognize Taipei as the legitimate government of China.

Since the end of the war, Chiang Kai-shek had advocated a “dualistic” view of prewar Japan, arguing that the Japanese people and the Japanese military were two separate entities. According to his way of thinking, responsibility for the war lay with a clique of militarists. The Japanese people and even the majority of rank-and-file soldiers were victims, like the Chinese. Mao Zedong adopted the same viewpoint.


That said, Chiang Kai-shek had decided early on to seek reparations from Japan and had calculated damages amounting to more than $51.5 billion. But as US priorities for Japan and the rest of the region shifted, the Allied powers agreed in principle to forego compensation, and under the Sino-Japanese Peace Treaty concluded on April 28, 1952, the Republic of China waived all claims to reparations.

Over the next two decades or so, the watchword in Japan-ROC relations was the saying “repaying malice with virtue,” a reference to Chiang Kai-shek’s magnanimity. Until Chiang Kai-shek’s death in 1975, virtually every Japanese politician who met with him would at some point recite that saying as a kind of mantra of gratitude for Chiang’s magnanimity. Chiang, for his part, never mentioned Japan’s role in the war. So, where the two countries’ political leaders were concerned, “repaying malice with virtue” seemed like a workable formula for postwar reconciliation and bilateral relations.

Beijing also embraced the theory that the Japanese people were innocent of the militarists’ crime as part of its strategy to weaken the influence of Taiwan and the United States in Japan. The idea was to enlist influential pro-Chinese figures in the private sector to lobby for eventual recognition of the Communist government and provide support for Japan’s leftist and anti-American forces. This was the origin of the Japan-China friendship movement. From Beijing’s standpoint, the overriding goal was improving China’s strategic position vis-à-vis Japan and the United States, and in this context, the issues of wartime responsibility were secondary.

In this way, the governments of mainland China and Taiwan both downplayed the issues of wartime responsibility in their dealings with Japan as they competed with one another for Japan’s friendship in the 1950s and 1960s. Back home, however, they were both disseminating anti-Japanese propaganda through the schools. That’s because the CPC and the Kuomintang both based their claims to legitimacy on their role in resisting and defeating Japanese aggression.

Meanwhile, most Japanese historians and other intellectuals of the period were highly critical of Japan’s prewar and wartime conduct and wrote passionately about its wartime responsibility. Unfortunately, in those days there was little interaction or exchange at this level between Japan and the Republic of China, and virtually none between Japan and Communist China, with which it had no diplomatic ties. This is one reason Japan’s reconciliation with the rest of East Asia gained so little ground at the grassroots level.

Another reason is that Taiwan wasn’t a democratic society when it normalized relations with Japan in 1952, and the same was true of China in 1972. In other words, when our East Asian neighbors made peace with Japan, their people weren’t actively involved in the decision-making process. This is one key difference between reconciliation in East Asia and in Europe after World War II. As democratic mechanisms have developed among our East Asian neighbors, their societies have begun demanding a renewed settlement of postwar accounts, both internally and externally. However much we protest that those issues have been settled legally and diplomatically, the East Asian public isn’t going to listen. This is the situation that began to confront Japan from the 1980s on, as democracy took hold in South Korea and Taiwan, and public opinion began to play a bigger role in Chinese society.

Japan established diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1972, and it began providing official development assistance in 1979. Deng Xiaoping, who was pursuing a pragmatic policy of economic reform and liberalization, believed that China should acknowledge Japan’s economic seniority and learn from it, but without forgetting the lessons of history. During the 1980s, the economic relationship was largely a one-way street, dominated by Japanese ODA. So whenever historical issues threatened to rock the boat, Japan could usually resolve them by offering economic concessions.

By the 1990s, however, Japan’s economic power was declining relative to China’s, and Tokyo was cutting back on its ODA. As a result, Japan lost its economic leverage, and with it, the ability to neutralize tensions over historical issues. These trends accelerated in the twenty-first century. As Japan’s economic contribution became less important, the historical aspects of the relationship came to the fore until eventually historical and territorial issues completely dominated the diplomatic discourse.

The courts have compounded the problem. Under the 1972 joint communiqué establishing diplomatic relations between Japan and the PRC, Beijing renounced any claim to reparations, but the courts originally interpreted this as applying only to the state, not to private entities, so there was still the potential for individual Chinese plaintiffs to claim damages. But in the first decade of this century, both the Tokyo High Court and the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that China had waived all private claims as well. This had serious repercussions. Since issues of wartime responsibility could no longer be deliberated and settled in the courts, they came under the purview of society and politics. That’s when Japan and China began launching joint research projects and engaging in historical dialogue at various levels. The rejection of private claims by the Japanese courts may also have influenced the Chinese courts to begin considering such cases.

I think what all of this illustrates is the degree to which Beijing’s strategies, its economic relationship with Japan, and a host of other factors have affected the importance it places on these issues of historical interpretation and reconciliation. Of course, there was also an increase in dialogue and exchange, including joint research projects, which have helped to advance reconciliation on some levels. There were methods and mechanisms in place to prevent the escalation of problems, and these functioned to some degree. Unfortunately, those mechanisms have gradually been lost, and the problems have escalated. At the government level, reconciliation hit a high-water mark with Wen Jiabao’s speech before Japan’s National Diet on April 12, 2007. But things turned sour after that, and in the meantime, Beijing’s foreign policy underwent a substantial shift. We really need to start putting our heads together to salvage the situation.

HOSOYA: Thank you for a very fresh perspective on these issues. Let’s turn now to relations between Japan and South Korea during the past seven decades.

JUN YA NISHINO: At the risk of oversimplifying, I would characterize the basic storyline as one of ongoing progress.

For the first two decades, from 1945 to 1965, Japan and Korea had no diplomatic ties. Bilateral talks began around the time the San Francisco Peace Treaty was concluded, but for fourteen years Tokyo and Seoul were unable to overcome their differences on the matter of Japan’s annexation of Korea. In 1965, they finally resolved them by means of ambiguous wording, as I explained earlier. The two countries’ leaders made a decision to put economic interests and security considerations first and deal with historical issues later. The South Korean government was desperate to speed up economic development. The Japanese government believed that an economically strong and politically stable South Korea was essential to Japan’s security. The interests of the two governments coincided, and that’s why the negotiations finally succeeded.

Those objectives have by and large been achieved. The South Korean economy developed rapidly, and in the late 1980s democratic government was established. Since then, South Korea has emerged as a highly dynamic economy and matured as a democracy. Partly as a consequence of this evolution, Japan–South Korea relations have run into the same sort of problems that Mr. Kawashima has just mentioned in connection with democratization.

I would argue that in the 1990s, just after the end of the Cold War, Japan made a serious, good-faith effort to grapple with the historical issues that the 1965 treaty had placed on the back burner. The 1993 Kono statement confronted the comfort women issue, and that was followed by the establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund and the Murayama statement of 1995. These efforts helped bring about the 1998 Japan–Republic of Korea Joint Declaration.

But during the following decade, historical controversies surged to the fore again. From the South Korean viewpoint, the blame for this lay with Prime Minister Jun’ichiro Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine between 2001 and 2006.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued a statement in August 2010 marking the centennial of Japan’s annexation of Korea. It didn’t gain much attention in Japan, which is a shame because it was actually one of the more important foreign-policy initiatives taken by the government while the Democratic Party of Japan was in power. It’s a strong declaration of Japan’s remorse for the era of colonial rule and its determination to make amends.

This is my take on the last seven decades of Japan-Korea relations. I think a lot of people in Japan would agree with my interpretation in its general outlines, but an increasing number of South Koreans today probably view things differently.

South Korean democracy developed rapidly in the 1990s, but conservative, anti-communist ideology dominated domestic politics before then. There was very little room for leftist, liberal thinking. But as democracy evolved, such ideas became more and more acceptable. In the decade between 1998 and 2008, South Korea had two successive left-leaning administrations. President Park Geun-hye is a conservative, but she won the 2012 election with only 51 percent of the vote; 48 percent voted for Moon Jae-in, a liberal. The left wing has become increasingly vocal and influential in South Korean society.

Many of the senior members of South Korea’s liberal camp are the same activists who spearheaded the democracy movement in the late 1980s. Their view is that Park Chung-hee went about normalizing relations with Japan the wrong way. At the time, South Korea was a weak and underdeveloped country, but it’s grown and matured. So, they argue, isn’t it time to rebuild the bilateral relationship on a new footing, more appropriate to South Korea’s current strength and international stature?

The courts have lent their voice to the notion that the terms of the 1965 treaty need to be reconsidered. This is implicit in the August 2011 Constitutional Court decision faulting the South Korean government for failing to negotiate a solution to the comfort women issue and the May 2012 Supreme Court ruling that South Korean victims of forced labor had the right to seek compensation from Japan. This sort of pressure from society and the judiciary has put the South Korean government in a very difficult position in terms of honoring the commitment it made to Japan at the state level.

When Values Coincide

HOSOYA: The longer we continue our discussion, the more struck I am by the difficulty of achieving reconciliation with our neighbors. The situation in South Korea poses special challenges—perhaps now more than ever. We may be at a point where we need to summon all our resources and ingenuity to come up with a solution.

What about the United States?

TSUNEO WATANABE: I think most people would agree that Japan and the United States have enjoyed good relations overall during the past seventy years. Japan has seen outbreaks of leftwing anti-Americanism and rightwing conservative nationalism, but despite occasional difficulties, we’ve generally managed to keep things on an even keel.

The Leaders’ Declaration issued at the Group of Seven Summit in Germany last June specifically mentioned the situation in the East and South China Seas under the section on maritime security. In an obvious reference to China, the leaders stated that they “strongly oppose the use of intimidation, coercion, or force, as well as any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo, such as large scale land reclamation.” This passage was inserted by Japan and the United States. Efforts like this help to reinforce prevailing international norms.

We saw a similar example of solidarity in support of international norms when Russia was suspended in March 2014, and the G8 became the G7 again. The other participating states agreed to suspend Russia to protest its annexation of Crimea. The United States has a huge interest in maintaining the liberal international order, and it supports it through ideological leadership as well as hard power. Japan also has an interest in the continuation of this American-led world order and shares its underlying ideals, so it has consistently cooperated with the United States over the past seven decades. These shared interests and ideals have allowed the Japanese and American people to achieve a fundamental reconciliation.

That said, there was a brief time when the relationship was in jeopardy. In 1989, when I was a student living in New York City, people in the Japanese community were warning me not to go out on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day. The Berlin Wall had just collapsed, and the Soviet Union was breaking down. For some time, though, US economic power had been in decline, while Japan and Germany, its former adversaries, were achieving robust growth. Japan-US relations had sunk to a low point over various trade disputes, and the backlash fueled a notion that Japan needed to be contained. The media and academia were disseminating gross misconceptions about Japan, suggesting that the country wasn’t a true democracy and not playing fair. In fact, one of the main reasons I went to study in the United States was to try to get to the heart of these revisionist misunderstandings. I studied political science largely to acquire the basic tools to counter this notion that Japan was fundamentally different.

What I came to realize is that when relations deteriorate at the state level, all kinds of other factors, including historical relations and cultural differences, are mobilized to reinforce a negative image. Once diplomatic ties improve, such negative images are swept away. Hollywood helped spread this ruthless image of Japan Inc. with movies like Rising Sun [1993], which was made at a time when there was deep concern over the expansion of Japanese business and the acquisition of American companies. In the movie, the son of a Japanese business magnate is implicated in the murder of a professional escort.

For years, Nazi villains were a staple of Hollywood cinema. During the Cold War, the Soviets were favored as the bad guys, and after the attacks of 9/11, it was the Arabs. But America is a democracy, so all of this is grounded in the prevailing popular image. Once the image ceases to be relevant, people lose interest in the former villains, and the stigma disappears. That’s one of the good things about American democracy.

On the other hand, you also have powerful lobbies and interest groups to deal with in the United States. Korean Americans, for example, have been very active representing South Korean interests in the United States, including its disputes with Japan. Of course, it’s their right to engage in political activity and lobby US politicians. But this anti-Japanese campaign by proxy on US soil has really complicated relations between Japan and South Korea. This may be one of the drawbacks of America’s undiscriminating democracy.

Even so, America’s pluses far outweigh the minuses. And we need to understand the fundamental principles—the shared beliefs and values pertaining to democratic government and human rights—that make American society what it is. The historical perception gap hasn’t been a major issue in Japan-US relations so far, but it could turn into a political controversy depending on the timing and the circumstances, so we need to be on our guard.

What to Expect from the Abe Statement

HOSOYA: We’ve heard from each of you regarding the development of postwar relations with China, South Korea, and the United States, so with those observations in mind, I’d like to turn to the third and fourth questions I raised: Seventy years after the end of World War II, what more needs to be done, and what policies should Japan adopt to repair or strengthen relations with these three countries? And, what are you expecting from Prime Minister Abe’s seventieth anniversary statement?

KAWASHIMA: As a member of the panel that compiled recommendations for the prime minister regarding the anniversary statement, there’s a limit to what I can say, but I’ll offer what observations I can within those constraints.

According to the Cabinet Office’s 2014 Public Opinion Survey on Diplomacy, about 80 percent of Japanese citizens feel little or no affinity for China, the attitude in Okinawa being even cooler. The percentage of Chinese who feel no affinity for Japan is roughly the same. Clearly, public sentiment is not conducive to a warming of bilateral relations.

The contrast with the 1980s is striking. If you look at the results of the same survey during that period, more than 70 percent of Japanese respondents indicated that they felt an affinity for China, and the figures were also pretty high on the Chinese side, where Japanese films were enjoying a big surge in popularity. The three major turning points in public opinion were the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, and the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2005.

It’s worth noting, though, that 70 percent of Japanese respondents and 60 percent of Chinese regard the other country as important, according to the results of the 2014 Japan-China Joint Opinion Poll by Genron NPO. So while they may not feel particularly friendly toward one another, people in the two countries acknowledge one another’s importance. There’s nothing really abnormal about such a relationship. My personal feeling is that it’s better to accept the tensions that exist and try to build trust despite those realities than to try vainly to resurrect the positive images of the past. It’s natural for our relationship to evolve into one in which both sides view the other more critically even while acknowledging one another’s importance.

China is Japan’s biggest trading partner, and its importance to the Japanese economy is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future, whatever our political differences. China is rising and expanding, and China’s policies and actions—particularly in the security and political spheres—are of considerable importance to the future of Japan and the world as a whole. That being the case, the important thing is to never look the other way. Keeping watch without jumping to conclusions is a difficult thing to do. But we have no choice given the magnitude of China’s impact on the world today.

Another important point to keep in mind is that Japan has become a very sensitive issue in China. Lately Chinese television has been broadcasting historical dramas and documentaries dealing with the anti-Japanese resistance, and some of this is wildly inaccurate. You hear nonsensical statements like, “My grandfather was killed by Japanese soldiers when he was nine.” The CPC could be creating a major headache for itself by spreading so much anti-Japanese propaganda in the schools and the media. At the same time, there is no denying that Chinese public perception of Japan has deteriorated in certain respects. And the Chinese government’s policy toward Japan has become particularly temperamental over the past six years or so, since Wen Jiabao’s bid for reconciliation failed and the Senkaku Islands dispute flared up. On a personal level, the Chinese people seem to love Japanese products and popular culture, but in public and official settings, they have very harsh things to say about Japan.

Then there’s the fact that those who place top priority on economic development tend to favor closer relations with Japan, while those who don’t are more inclined to play up the territorial issue. Internal disagreements regarding domestic policy feed into dissent over Beijing’s Japan policy. So, when domestic problems arise at the political level, the government is all the more vulnerable to a public backlash depending on its policy toward Japan. Because of this tendency, it’s becoming more and more difficult for Beijing to deal with Japan.

Under the circumstances, there’s little choice but to maintain dialogue where dialogue is possible and to prevent differences from escalating to a boiling point. President Xi Jinping’s policy over the past six months has been to prevent relations with Japan from swinging too widely in either direction.

As for what to expect from Abe’s statement, I don’t really know, but I think his emphasis is likely to be different from the Murayama and Koizumi statements [on the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversary of the war, respectively]. In those anniversary statements, the focus was primarily on the period before 1945. I think that Prime Minister Abe is likely to put more emphasis on the seventy years since the war and on all the efforts toward reconciliation Japan has undertaken since then. Having expressed remorse for the past and acknowledged the facts of history, I think he’ll focus on doing what remains to be done.

My personal opinion is that there are a number of things that we could be doing to improve the situation in the light of Wen Jiabao’s April 2007 speech to the Diet—with the proviso that we must continue to keep a sharp eye on China, as I mentioned earlier. The first relates to the Peace, Friendship, and Exchange Initiative announced by Prime Minister Murayama back in 1994, a year before his war anniversary statement. Under this initiative, Japan allocated substantial funds for programs to support exchange at the nongovernmental level with a view to promoting reconciliation with nations that were once at war with Japan. I believe these efforts should be continued into the future. Even those countries that say they are willing to “forgive but won’t forget” deserve our reassurance that we won’t forget either. And those countries that haven’t forgiven need it all the more.

Second, when it comes to discussing history, I think we need to talk about Japan’s postwar efforts toward reconciliation, not just prewar and wartime events. As an example, the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records has a very useful website that provides free digital access to historical materials housed in the National Archives of Japan, the Diplomatic Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National Institute for Defense Studies of the Ministry of Defense. But for some reason, it only provides access to prewar and wartime records. If it were to include information on Japan’s postwar efforts toward reconciliation and its contributions to the international community, that could promote understanding of the progress we’ve made over the past seventy years.

A third thing we need to work on is improving the teaching of history in our schools.

Finally, I just want to mention that, when it comes to East Asia, one serious concern I have is Taiwan. The Japanese have a tendency to regard Taiwan as a friendly, pro-Japanese country, but the reality is much more complex. There are a number of changes underway in Taiwan today that could have important ramifications for Japan-China relations, Japan-US relations, and the role of Okinawa. I think the time is approaching when we’ll need to think seriously about ways to achieve reconciliation with Taiwanese society, not just with the government in Taipei.

Twice as Humble, Twice as Tolerant

NISHINO: The first thing I would mention in regard to Japan-ROK relations is the growing mutual animosity among ordinary citizens. Two of three Japanese surveyed in the Cabinet Office’s latest Public Opinion Survey on Diplomacy said they felt little or no affinity toward South Korea. This is a very serious state of affairs. As recently as 2009, two out of three Japanese indicated that they felt close to the country. South Korean sentiment toward Japan is also very negative, but that’s been true for some time; the level of animosity hasn’t changed much on their side.

The recent deterioration in Japanese attitudes toward South Korea can be traced back to President Lee Myung-bak’s August 2012 landing on Takeshima and his demand that the Emperor apologize for Japan’s colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Both countries’ leaders need to recognize the gravity of the situation and make a concerted effort to avoid any further deterioration in bilateral ties.

On a positive note, both leaders attended receptions held on June 22 in Tokyo and Seoul to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the normalization of bilateral ties. I take this as a positive sign, an indication that they wanted to seize the opportunity to begin repairing relations. Hopefully, this will translate into further progress in the upcoming months, including the resumption of the Japan-China-ROK trilateral summit.

The second point I want to make concerns the “two-track approach” toward Japanese diplomacy proposed by the administration of President Park Geun-hye. I think it makes good sense to treat historical reconciliation as a separate issue to prevent it from casting a shadow over other facets of the relationship. At the same time, we have to be careful not to sweep these issues under the rug again. South Korean society and Japanese society have both undergone profound changes since 1965. Both sides need to keep working diligently and patiently to develop constructive approaches to the problem predicated on today’s realities.

This brings me to another point I wanted to mention. Japan and South Korea have actually made considerable progress in terms of cooperation and dialogue in areas other than historical reconciliation, such as the economy, culture, people-to-people exchange, and most recently security. Unfortunately, these activities don’t get a lot of attention. Japan-Korea relations are multifaceted and multidimensional, and the historical aspect is just one component, albeit an important one. We need to start focusing more on these other areas if we want to improve the bilateral relationship.

As regards the Abe statement, I have two basic expectations. One is that the prime minister will deliver a message that resonates with the international community as a whole. Of course, we would like South Korea and China to respond positively. But judging from the content of speeches Abe made earlier this year and the conclusions of his advisory panel, it seems unrealistic to imagine that the August statement will elicit praise from Seoul. Still, if he can send a strong and effective message to the international community, acknowledging Japan’s past and conveying how it intends to contribute to the international community going forward, he will have passed an important test.

Concerning Japan-ROK relations specifically, I think that the prime minister needs to get the South Korean people to understand that Japan and South Korea have both worked hard to shape the bilateral relationship over the years. The June 2015 report on the government’s review of the 1993 Kono statement revealed how closely Tokyo and Seoul have been working since the 1990s to find a resolution to the comfort women issue. The report drew a sharp reaction from Seoul, and President Park keeps insisting that the first step is for Japan to confront the facts honestly, but I think we also need to discuss what South Korea’s next steps should be after Japan does confront the facts and how the two governments can bring closure to these issues, particularly the comfort women problem.

WATANABE: I think you made an important point about the South Korean government’s part in shaping the bilateral relationship. In Tokyo last March, German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the understanding and magnanimity of Germany’s former adversaries in extending the hand of reconciliation to Germany after World War II. Her words had deep implications.

Where Japan and the United States are concerned, there are very few unresolved issues requiring reconciliation. But if Japan is incapable of achieving reconciliation with its neighbors, that may undermine its value as a US ally. In that sense, we need to do our utmost to reconcile with our Asian neighbors if we want to maintain and improve our ties with the United States.

Another key to that relationship is shared values and a common interest in preserving the international order and international norms. Japan needs to clearly articulate what it wants to accomplish as a member of the international community and what sort of international order it wants to build, and then implement concrete policies toward achieving those goals. That’s why I applaud Prime Minister Abe’s attempts to make “proactive contributions to peace.” I agree with the prime minister that Japan needs to relax the legal constraints that have limited our ability to contribute proactively to regional stability as a necessary step toward becoming a mature nation. Unfortunately, he was not very successful in persuading the public of this need. The Abe statement will need to be consistent with his announced policies.

The prime minister needs to avoid backward-looking justifications or denials of the past. But he also needs to avoid an inward-looking, isolationist approach. The domestic opposition to Abe’s new security legislation is based on an isolationist fear of what might come from making a proactive contribution to world affairs. I’m hoping the Abe statement will clearly convey the value of Japan’s contribution to international society to date and also its commitment to make an even greater contribution going forward.

HOSOYA: If I may be forgiven a rather down-to-earth analogy, I’ve seen a certain amount of interpersonal friction develop among my seminar students at times, and I’ve realized that everyone has a tendency to magnify their own efforts and underrate the efforts of others. So I often tell them, “Take half the credit for your own contribution, and give others twice the credit for theirs, and you’ll probably have a more accurate assessment.” In other words, to get an objective picture of ourselves and others, we need to be twice as humble and twice as tolerant. It’s easy to criticize South Korea, China, or the United States, but I think that if we start by humbly examining our own conduct, we’ll find plenty of hints for improving relations.

Thank you all for a very worthwhile discussion.

(Abridged and adapted from the transcript of the 95th Tokyo Foundation Forum, July 6, 2015.)

Is Historical Reconciliation Possible? (Part I)


Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Friday, August 14, 2015
Cabinet Decision

On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we must calmly reflect upon the road to war, the path we have taken since it ended, and the era of the 20th century. We must learn from the lessons of history the wisdom for our future.

More than one hundred years ago, vast colonies possessed mainly by the Western powers stretched out across the world. With their overwhelming supremacy in technology, waves of colonial rule surged toward Asia in the 19th century. There is no doubt that the resultant sense of crisis drove Japan forward to achieve modernization. Japan built a constitutional government earlier than any other nation in Asia. The country preserved its independence throughout. The Japan-Russia War gave encouragement to many people under colonial rule from Asia to Africa.

After World War I, which embroiled the world, the movement for self-determination gained momentum and put brakes on colonization that had been underway. It was a horrible war that claimed as many as ten million lives. With a strong desire for peace stirred in them, people founded the League of Nations and brought forth the General Treaty for Renunciation of War. There emerged in the international community a new tide of outlawing war itself.

At the beginning, Japan, too, kept steps with other nations. However, with the Great Depression setting in and the Western countries launching economic blocs by involving colonial economies, Japan's economy suffered a major blow. In such circumstances, Japan's sense of isolation deepened and it attempted to overcome its diplomatic and economic deadlock through the use of force. Its domestic political system could not serve as a brake to stop such attempts. In this way, Japan lost sight of the overall trends in the world.

With the Manchurian Incident, followed by the withdrawal from the League of Nations, Japan gradually transformed itself into a challenger to the new international order that the international community sought to establish after tremendous sacrifices. Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war.

And, seventy years ago, Japan was defeated.

On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences.

More than three million of our compatriots lost their lives during the war: on the battlefields worrying about the future of their homeland and wishing for the happiness of their families; in remote foreign countries after the war, in extreme cold or heat, suffering from starvation and disease. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the air raids on Tokyo and other cities, and the ground battles in Okinawa, among others, took a heavy toll among ordinary citizens without mercy.

Also in countries that fought against Japan, countless lives were lost among young people with promising futures. In China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and elsewhere that became the battlefields, numerous innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food. We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured.

Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dream, and beloved family. When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief.

The peace we enjoy today exists only upon such precious sacrifices. And therein lies the origin of postwar Japan.

We must never again repeat the devastation of war.

Incident, aggression, war -- we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. We shall abandon colonial rule forever and respect the right of self-determination of all peoples throughout the world.

With deep repentance for the war, Japan made that pledge. Upon it, we have created a free and democratic country, abided by the rule of law, and consistently upheld that pledge never to wage a war again. While taking silent pride in the path we have walked as a peace-loving nation for as long as seventy years, we remain determined never to deviate from this steadfast course.

Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war. In order to manifest such feelings through concrete actions, we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbours: those in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and China, among others; and we have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war.

Such position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.
However, no matter what kind of efforts we may make, the sorrows of those who lost their family members and the painful memories of those who underwent immense sufferings by the destruction of war will never be healed.

Thus, we must take to heart the following.

The fact that more than six million Japanese repatriates managed to come home safely after the war from various parts of the Asia-Pacific and became the driving force behind Japan’s postwar reconstruction; the fact that nearly three thousand Japanese children left behind in China were able to grow up there and set foot on the soil of their homeland again; and the fact that former POWs of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and other nations have visited Japan for many years to continue praying for the souls of the war dead on both sides.

How much emotional struggle must have existed and what great efforts must have been necessary for the Chinese people who underwent all the sufferings of the war and for the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military in order for them to be so tolerant nevertheless?

That is what we must turn our thoughts to reflect upon.

Thanks to such manifestation of tolerance, Japan was able to return to the international community in the postwar era. Taking this opportunity of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Japan would like to express its heartfelt gratitude to all the nations and all the people who made every effort for reconciliation.

In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.

Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations were able to survive in a devastated land in sheer poverty after the war. The future they brought about is the one our current generation inherited and the one we will hand down to the next generation. Together with the tireless efforts of our predecessors, this has only been possible through the goodwill and assistance extended to us that transcended hatred by a truly large number of countries, such as the United States, Australia, and European nations, which Japan had fiercely fought against as enemies.

We must pass this down from generation to generation into the future. We have the great responsibility to take the lessons of history deeply into our hearts, to carve out a better future, and to make all possible efforts for the peace and prosperity of Asia and the world.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when Japan attempted to break its deadlock with force. Upon this reflection, Japan will continue to firmly uphold the principle that any disputes must be settled peacefully and diplomatically based on the respect for the rule of law and not through the use of force, and to reach out to other countries in the world to do the same. As the only country to have ever suffered the devastation of atomic bombings during war, Japan will fulfil its responsibility in the international community, aiming at the non-proliferation and ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women’s injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women’s human rights are not infringed upon.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when forming economic blocs made the seeds of conflict thrive. Upon this reflection, Japan will continue to develop a free, fair and open international economic system that will not be influenced by the arbitrary intentions of any nation. We will strengthen assistance for developing countries, and lead the world toward further prosperity. Prosperity is the very foundation for peace. Japan will make even greater efforts to fight against poverty, which also serves as a hotbed of violence, and to provide opportunities for medical services, education, and self-reliance to all the people in the world.

We will engrave in our hearts the past, when Japan ended up becoming a challenger to the international order. Upon this reflection, Japan will firmly uphold basic values such as freedom, democracy, and human rights as unyielding values and, by working hand in hand with countries that share such values, hoist the flag of “Proactive Contribution to Peace,” and contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world more than ever before.

Heading toward the 80th, the 90th and the centennial anniversary of the end of the war, we are determined to create such a Japan together with the Japanese people.

August 14, 2015
Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan


The prime minister's statement reprinted from the website of the Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet,

    • Project Member, Political and Diplomatic Review
      Professor, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo
    • Shin Kawashima
    • Shin Kawashima
    • Lecturer, Faculty of Law, Keio University
    • Jun’ya Nishino
    • Jun’ya Nishino
    • Senior Fellow, Tokyo Foundation Senior Fellow, Sasakawa Peace Foundation
    • Tsuneo Watanabe
    • Tsuneo Watanabe
    • 細谷 雄一/Yuichi Hosoya }
    • Former Research Director
    • Yuichi Hosoya
    • Yuichi Hosoya
    Areas of Expertise
    • Political science
    • theory and history of international relations
    • contemporary European history
    Research Program

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