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Abe should atone for Japan's war crimes

Updated: 2013-06-01 08:11
By Chen Weihua ( China Daily)

Abe should atone for Japan's war crimes

A lot of Westerners are puzzled why so many Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos or people in other Asian nations still cannot get over the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army more than 60 years after the end of World War II.

But the words and antics of right-wing Japanese political leaders in recent months have shown why.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has dismissed the notion that the country's wartime actions amounted to "aggression", saying such a definition has yet to be "firmly determined" by academics or the international community.

Abe has also defended his ritual offering at the Yasukuni Shrine and the visits to the shrine by 168 lawmakers and several of his cabinet members in April, and said it would be "quite natural for a Japanese leader to offer prayers for those who sacrificed their lives for their country", not to mention that the "lives" he referred to include 14 class-A convicts condemned by the US-led Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

He has also said he regretted that he did not visit the shrine during his first term as prime minister in 2006-07.

Abe also posed for a photo, thumb up, in the cockpit of a military training jet with the number "731". As he well knows Unit 731 was a notorious covert biological and chemical weapons research team of Imperial Japanese Army that experimented on Chinese, Korean and Soviet prisoners during World War II in Northeast China.

Abe is not the only right-wing politician in Japan riling its neighbors. Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a co-leader of Japan's nationalist Restoration Party, angered many in Asia recently by denying that wartime "comfort women" were forced into sexual servitude through a system of violence, threats and abduction.

The comfort women, estimated at 20,000 by Japanese scholars and 410,000 by Chinese scholars, were mostly from China, the Philippines and the Korean Peninsula. They included 14-year-old Kim Bok-dong, now 87, who has been traveling in Japan to educate the Japanese public about this infamous part of their history.

The majority of the Japanese public does not endorse Hashimoto's views: the newspaper Mainichi Shimbun reported that 71 percent of respondents to one survey called his comments inappropriate. Still "inappropriate" is too light a word.

The US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki has used the words "outrageous and offensive" to describe Hashimoto's words.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has sent a document to Japan calling on its government to do everything in its power to stop the hate speech and defamation against "comfort women".

In editorials, major newspapers in the United States and Britain have condemned both Abe's equivocacy on "aggression" and Hashimoto's humiliation of "comfort women".

However, top US leaders from US President Barack Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry have yet to publicly condemn the provocative words and deeds of Abe and other Japanese right-wingers.

Some Americans and Europeans have said to me that the Japanese have already apologized for their atrocities during the war - although the apologies by many previous Japanese leaders for their country's horrendous war crimes use half-hearted words such as "regret" - and they question why these apologies have not appeased its neighbors.

The answer should be clear now.

People in Asia want to see the Japanese public and more of the country's political leaders coming out and condemning in the strongest terms the revisionism of Abe and Hashimoto.

At Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies in February, Abe delivered his keynote speech "Japan Is Back". He said his task is "to look toward the future" and make Japan an "ever more trusted partner for the region and the world".

However, the only way Abe and his right-wing cohorts can do this is by facing up to the past and sincerely atoning.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA. E-mail: chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

(China Daily 06/01/2013 page5)