Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might have received a slight bounce in the polls after his speech on Friday to mark the anniversary of Tokyo’s surrender at the end of World War II, but he did little to impress Taiwan or other neighbors, especially those who were invaded by the Japanese Imperial Army.
Emperor Akihito came across as much more sincere on Saturday with his shorter, tightly scripted and ritualized statement of “deep remorse.”
Abe said that he upheld apologies issued by his predecessors on the 50th and 60th anniversaries, but he did not provide anything new in his own words for the 70th anniversary, even though his speech was much longer than previous ones.
Speeches such as Abe’s are about what is not said as much as what is said; about the subtle nuances and inflections. That is where a careful reading of his speech shows that he was trying to blur the lines between an invading force and those who were invaded, between victims and aggressors — trying to craft a narrative that is more in keeping with the feelings of so many Japanese conservatives that there have been too many apologies, too much self-flagellation over their nation’s colonial dreams and the war when it was only doing what many Western countries had done before it.
Abe said that the history of “incident, aggression, war” was a grave mistake and Japan has learned its lesson. He stressed the immense suffering that the war caused Japan, while acknowledging that in waging the war, Japan had caused other nations to suffer.
It could not have helped with diplomatic relations that after Abe finished giving his statement and follow-up news conference, his foreign minister felt that he had to call his South Korean counterpart “to explain the message.” Regardless of what the diplomats said, Seoul’s government and its people were distinctly unimpressed.
For the most part, Taiwanese have a more favorable view of their colonial experience under Tokyo than the Koreans do — despite repeated Aboriginal resistance and the 1915 Tapani Incident — given that Tokyo viewed the island as a “model colony” for its expansionist dreams. Taiwanese certainly do not have the same anti-Japanese feelings that the Chinese, including successive Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) governments, have held as a result of the Japanese invasion of China. Many Taiwanese men, especially Aborigines, proudly served with the Imperial Army during the war, even though many Taiwanese women were also forcibly dragooned into serving as comfort women and suffered for decades as a result.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) responded to Abe’s address on Saturday by saying that he hoped Tokyo would do more to address its aggression during the war, especially on comfort women issues. However, he then undercut the value of that statement by saying that he hoped Japan would “continue to recognize historical facts” and take concrete actions to achieve reconciliation. While those are commendable sentiments, coming from the leader of a party-led government that has been unable and unwilling to “recognize historical facts” regarding the history of the Republic of China and the KMT’s rule over Taiwan, they simply made Ma seem as remote and disconnected as Abe.
Abe said that he did not see why future generations of Japanese should have to keep apologizing for mistakes made before they were born — part of his “been there, done that” approach to marking the war anniversary.
Like Ma, Abe’s problem is that he does not see that not only were adequate apologies not made by those in power at the time or by the present leadership, but many refused to acknowledge that any mistakes or atrocities were committed. Without recognizing that fact, it is Abe and his ilk who are condemning future generations of Japanese, not the people of other nations.
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