As the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II draws closer, a spotlight from heavyweight political figures here as well as the international community is being firmly trained on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will craft and deliver a new statement on the historic day.
The prime minister is under close scrutiny as any deviation from integral aspects of previous statements issued on the occasions of the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the war's end, by prime ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi respectively, both apologized for Japan's colonial rule and brutal aggression and specifically referenced these terms in the apology.
A moderate leader would not garner in any way as much attention as Abe is on this subject, as it would be the correct thing to do to follow in the internationally-accepted footsteps of Murayama and his benchmark apology for Japan's wartime atrocities, but the current Japanese leader is cut from a different cloth.
"Abe is a career politician and it has been clear during his second time as the nation's leader since 2012 that far from being a mere conservative leader, he has overt rightwing leanings and tendencies and as such, the statement he has to make on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, will be conflicting for him," Simon Naylor, an East Asian Studies research fellow at the University of Leeds, U.K., told Xinhua by phone.
"On the one hand prime minister Abe has suggested that he doesn 't wholly agree with former apologies from Murayama and this occasion could be the perfect opportunity for him to further propel a rightwing, revisionist agenda, as he sets about normalizing his military through constitutional change while simultaneously rewriting the history books, but this would be a bold move, even for Abe," Naylor said.
The UK-based expert further explained that the right-leaning nature of current politics in Japan had not gone unnoticed by the international community and when country-changing moves are made, such as a unilateral decision by a cabinet to change the parameters of its military forces, that are not based on public approval or exhaustive parliamentary debate, the world sits up and takes notice.
"It's one thing to want one's country to be of service in a productive fashion on a global scale, even if this means putting itself in harms way for the greater good, but for a country that is constitutionally-bound to not intervene in certain global affairs, any moves that run contrary to this, that don't come by way of a public mandate, could be deemed autocratic," said Naylor. "And this is where the problem lies. Japan, as progressive a nation as it is, in terms of its economy and technical ingenuity, levels of education, cultural heritage and pseudo-westernization, has unfortunately, failed to leave its wartime history behind, unlike Germany, for example." "This is because prominent politicians, including Abe himself, make continual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals, have denied factual details of atrocities in the war, such as the Nanking Massacre, and have questioned the veracity of statements given by sex slaves forced to serve the Imperial Army. They have also sought to rewrite textbooks so that future generations inherit a rosier history of their country," Naylor said.
While Abe can no longer hide his rightwing ideology, militaristic intentions and contentious historical perceptions in plain sight, what he says in the new statement will have a profound effect on Japan's future relations with its immediate neighbors who were brutalized by Japan during the war, such as, but not limited to, South Korea and China, but also with its closest ally, the United States.
Washington has on numerous occasions cautioned the Abe administration against intentionally aggravating its neighbors, particularly at a time when diplomatic relations between Tokyo and Seoul, and Tokyo and Beijing have slumped to their lowest in recent history, over territorial disputes and misperceptions of history.
But cautions and reprimands from the U.S. were not enough to prevent Abe from visiting the controversial Yasukuni shrine in 2013 and some political watchers are wondering if international reprisals are enough to stop Abe from fanning the flames of disharmony with an ill-advised statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
"The prime minister convened a panel of experts on Wednesday who are helping him craft his statement by looking at a number of issues, including historical ones, from different perspectives and among those sitting on the panel are some 'experts' with some potentially inflammatory ideas," pacific affairs analyst, Laurent Sinclair, told Xinhua. "One of the so-called 'experts' believes that Japan didn't fight a war of aggression, but rather a war of self-defense and this should be reflected in the new statement; while another has stated that Japan's Constitution was imposed by the allies and Japan's neighbors use this to pressure it not to change. Meanwhile a third 'expert' with radical views believes that Japan's use of sex slaves were fabricated," Sinclair explained.
He went on to say that the panelists were comprised of a diverse range of authorities, not only those with radical, revisionist beliefs, but added that of course Abe, as much as he had also selected experts with rational and moderate views, had selected the radicals for a reason.
"The likelihood is that the process here is Abe's way of flexing his nationalistic muscles. Through discussion and debate the prime minister can hear what he wants to hear and disregard the rest as the panel serves only as a sounding board for the prime minister." "The discussions themselves may well conclude with a footnote that supports a revisionist ideology, in a similar way as the Kono Statement on comfort women (sex slaves) was revisited recently, questioned, doubted and then left as is, despite an unofficial, yet open spurning of the original findings by Abe and other senior politicians," Sinclair suggested.
But common sense will likely prevail, and there is a great deal of pressure on Abe to adhere to the Murayama statement and to specifically use the words "colonial rule" and "aggression" in his apology.
The leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Katsuya Okada, has expressed his concern about Abe's views of history and pressed the prime minister to "set aside" his personal convictions and listen to the opinions of others.
From within Abe's own ruling Liberal Democratic Party as well, Vice President Masahiko Komura urged Abe to uphold the government' s past apologies, while making his statement one that also looked to the future. Komura said that Abe can't hope to have Japan's future focused on if he doesn't "inherit the statements for the 50th and 60th war anniversaries."
Indeed, even Japan's own royal family has weighed in, such is the gravity of the new statement, with Prince Naruhito intimating in a news conference to mark his 55th birthday this week that Abe' s statement should reflect history "correctly" and that Japan's history in general should be passed down honestly to the younger generations.
In the meeting itself Wednesday, Abe was quoted as saying, "We can never have a foundation for the future if we break from the past," and that the "80th, 90th and 100th anniversaries will be built on our remorse for the war and our path as a pacifist state for the past 70 years."
But as political watchers have attested the contradiction lies in the fact that as Japan has been a pacifist state for the past seven decades, Abe has been steadily ensuring that the future annals of Japan's history will read very differently, as he sets about ensuring a new ear of Japanese militarism. "Whatever Abe says in his statement, actions will always speak louder than words. So for one to truly understand Japan's remorse, pacifist intentions, and efforts toward peace, one need only look at the current situation in Japan -- record military spending, constitutional remodeling and a huge Abe-backed drive for Japan's military to, once again, be a global player," Naylor concluded.