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Abe's possible personal war anniversary statement will do Japan more harm than good

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is under increasing scrutiny from both Japan's neighbors and the international community as his highly anticipated statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be delivered next month.

After lengthy political debate, research and advice from the ruling camp as well as external specialists, it is believed that Abe should follow previous commemorations by former prime ministers that have become the international benchmark for Japan.

While Abe, as prime minister, with the backing of his Cabinet, is free to add his own personal sentiments to the statement, the speech itself, delivered by a prime minister, is considered the official stance of the Japanese government on its actions during WWII, which caused inhumane suffering to hundreds of thousands of people under its colonial rule.

Abe, vilified for a series of political maneuvers culminating in his plans to remilitarize the nation by forcing a security package of unconstitutional legislation through a parliament that he controls, has alienated himself and Japan further from its closest neighbors like China and South Korea, seen his public support rate tumble in Japan with mass protests on almost a weekly basis, and has drawn harsh criticism from the international community for allowing diplomatic ties to sour and heightening tensions in the region.

"But in the upcoming war statement despite all his saber rattling, the prime minister has once again been presented with a golden opportunity to take great strides in mending ties with the countries Japan terrorized before and during WWII and do his part to help the ongoing healing of the victims themselves who suffered at the hands of Japan's wartime brutality," David McLellan, a professor emeritus of postgraduate Asian Studies in Tokyo, told Xinhua.

"It wouldn't be unreasonable to suggest that Abe plans to thwart this opportunity and will steamroll over the feelings of Japan's war victims, despite all the advise given to him from historians, scholars, former prime ministers, senior officials from within his own party as well as opposition parties, members of the public and appeals from the international community," McLellan said, adding that it was looking increasingly likely that Abe now plans to deliver a personal statement rather than a cabinet-backed statement.

If this were to be the case, it would be the most arrogant and offensive move the prime minister has made and will confirm his intentions and character in the eyes of the world as being openly sinister, with the rumor mill which has churned out speculation that Abe is hellbent on achieving his singular legacy of remilitarizing Japan and attempting to brush all its historical wrongdoings under the carpet.

The expert added that not much was being asked of the prime minister, nor was it of his predecessors in the same position, namely former prime ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi, who both delivered war statements that had been signed by all ministers for a formal cabinet endorsement, making the speech the official position of the government and hence accepted as a global benchmark. Murayama's landmark 1995 apology for Japan's wartime aggression and colonial rule was endorsed by the then cabinet ahead of the 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender inn WWII, as was Koizumi's a decade later.

Murayama has recently urged Abe to seek cabinet approval for his statement, and stick to some key phrases and sentiments, which were and are of paramount importance to the honorableness, probity and veracity of the statement, and were also reflected in Koizumi' s statement as per the government's official line. The phrases are centered around offering a "heartfelt apology" and conceding that Japan's wartime actions were those of "aggression and colonial rule."

"But it would seem that Abe has other ideas, as has become his modus operandi. He, as has been the case since he came to power, refuses to be tied down by his cabinet or the constitution and believes as the leader of a 'new Japan' he can act by himself - the scenario we have now with Abe is a throwback to a former military government that acted at its own behest," Japan affairs commentator Kaoru Imori told Xinhua.

"Abe has said that he will 'honor the previous statements as a whole,' but we know how ambiguous Abe can be and hence this basically means nothing, underscored by the fact that he has already balked at certain phrases used in past statements, such as those referring to Japan 'following a mistaken national policy' and the notion of 'colonial rule and aggression'," said Imori.

"The prime minister has on numerous occasions said that he plans to deliver a 'future-oriented' war anniversary statement that is 'suitable for the 21st century,' which is perfectly in line with his revisionist ideology that denies or fails to look squarely at a number of proven historical atrocities, including the Imperial Army's kidnapping and rape of sex slaves at military sex stations, and barbaric acts that happened in China, such as the Nanjing Massacre."

Imori said that calls from Murayama to adhere to previous war statements have fallen on deaf ears and the guileful prime minister is, in keeping with his revisionist tenets and nationalistic leanings, looking to shirk his responsibilities as premier, which should ordinarily see him deliver a cabinet- approved statement that adheres to previous administration's cordial and honest reflections on Japan's wartime wrongdoings and also reflects the Japanese populations' basic collective, remorseful and pacifistic stance.

Instead, as Imori and a host of other experts on the matter now attest, Abe believes that by delivering a "personal statement" rather than a government-approved one, he is free from the shackles of responsibility and duty that would require him to say things his conscience knows he should, but his pride won't allow him to.

"It's actually more than about pride, but Abe's pride is high, there's no doubt about that and he is also driven by his ego and his future legacy - he wants to be remembered as a strong leader who fundamentally changed the course of Japan and successfully resuscitated the nation's old militaristic heart. Therefore, delivering a cabinet-endorsed statement does not fit his path, or his intentions, so by delivering a speech in a private capacity Abe thinks he can grant himself the freedom to say what he really wants, or, put more accurately, not be forced to say what he doesn 't want to," Imori said.

"But what the prime minister seems to be failing to fully realize, as was the case when he visited Yasukuni Shrine in a private capacity, is that it doesn't matter the 'capacity' he decides to do or say something in, he is the prime minister of Japan, so his words and deeds will always be interpreted as being a reflection of Japan's official line and this is dangerous."

It's dangerous in as much as Abe's falling support rate shows that the Japanese public are not behind Abe, particularly his moves to normalize the military in an unconstitutional way. His own party officials and those of the opposition are also imploring Abe to tow the government line and deliver an approved speech, as he is speaking on behalf of the government and the nation, Imori said.

"But Abe, sadly, seems intent on writing his own legacy, and the likelihood is that his personal war statement will do far more damage than good, as far as ties with Japan's neighbors are concerned. It's unfair, selfish and certainly not in the best interests of the Japanese people who will be left to deal with the fallout from Abe's egocentrism, long after he is prime minister," Imori concluded.

[Source: By John Day, Xinhua, Tokyo, 08Jul15]

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