Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a condolence message to a ceremony honoring “martyrs,” including some convicted as war criminals after World War II, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday, news that could snarl efforts to thaw chilly ties with China.
Abe sent the message in April to a Buddhist temple in western Japan housing a cenotaph on which the names of about 1,180 “Showa Martyrs” — suspected
and convicted World War II war criminals who were executed or died in prison — are inscribed, an official of a group sponsoring the event said.
The term “Showa” refers to former emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japanese soldiers fought World War II.
“I offer my sincere condolences to the spirits of those Showa Martyrs who gave their lives for the sake of today’s peace and prosperity, becoming the foundation of the fatherland,” the official quoted Abe as saying in the message.
“I pray for eternal peace and pledge to carve out a path to a future of human coexistence,” he added.
The ceremony has been held annually since 1994, when the cenotaph was established
The same wartime leaders are enshrined along with war dead at the more widely known Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
Abe surged back to power in December 2012 pledging to revive the economy, but remains committed to a conservative agenda that includes recasting Japan’s wartime past with a less apologetic tone and easing the limits of its pacifist constitution.
Abe sent the message as the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Suga told a news conference.
“As such, the government thinks of him in this respect as a private citizen,” Suga added.
News of the message comes as Abe is reaching out to Beijing in hopes of a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at the APEC summit in November.
Beijing reacted angrily to the news, with a statement from Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) castigating Abe for his “incorrect attitude” to the past.
“Facing history, reflecting profoundly on past militarist aggression, and making a clean break with militarism are an important foundation for rebuilding and developing Japan’s relationship with its Asian neighbours,” Hong said.
Abe provoked angry criticism from China and South Korea when he sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni Shrine this month, but he stayed away from the shrine in an apparent effort to dampen diplomatic fallout.
The Web site of the little-known Buddhist monument in Wakayama in western Japan, where Abe sent his message, says the Allied war crime trials were “victors’ revenge.”
Suga yesterday repeated the stance of Japan’s government, which accepted the verdicts of the tribunal convicting the wartime leaders under the 1952 treaty that formally ended the war.
“It is a fact that [the accused] were judged guilty of crimes against peace by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East,” Suga said. “Under the San Francisco Peace Treaty, our country accepts those judgments.”
Academics have pointed out what they see as flaws in the war crimes trials, such as the absence of the crime of conspiracy in international law before 1945 and a failure to charge other key figures, such as leaders of ultra-right groups or industrialists.
Some Japanese regard the trial as providing valid, if imperfect, verdicts, but ultra-conservatives reject them entirely as victors’ justice.
Additional reporting by AFP
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