World / Asia-Pacific

Experts stress importance of Abe apology

By Zhang Chunyan in London, Zhao Yanrong in Bangkok and Zhang Yunbi in Beijing (China Daily) Updated: 2015-08-13 07:51

Analysts in Europe and Asia stressed the importance of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sincerely apologizing for Japan's wartime atrocities in his statement on Friday marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

"Acknowledgment of Japan's historic conduct in the region is important to improving ties with its neighbors," Richard Caplan, professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, told China Daily.

"It will therefore be viewed as a significant statement by China, South Korea and the United States," Caplan said.

Abe confirmed on Wednesday that he will "convey to the world the remorse for the past war," Kyodo News agency reported.

However, Caplan noted that it is possible for Abe "both to acknowledge the past and to assert that one must never forget it while at the same time emphasizing the importance of moving forward on the basis of mutual respect among all states in the region."

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, said Abe should follow the footsteps of his predecessors, especially former prime minister Tomiichi Murayama, who expressed deep remorse in 1995.

"Otherwise, it would render long-term negative ramifications not only to the Asian region's most important bilateral relations, but impact peace and stability in the whole region, especially ASEAN," Chongkittavorn said.

"Abe is a nationalist when it comes to the defense of Japan," he added. "Japan has maintained the pacifist path after WWII, but now the future is hanging in the balance because of the new attitude of Abe."

Nicola Cassarini, a senior fellow for Asia at the Institute of International Affairs in Italy, said, "It needs to be remembered that when German policymakers apologized for the deeds done by Nazi Germany, they not only did it to heal the past wounds inflicted on the other peoples of Europe, but also because they had a project in mind for the future of Europe."

"For instance, when on Dec 7, 1970 Willy Brandt, at that time German Chancellor, laid down a wreath at the memorial of the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw and then fell to his knees in front of the memorial, confessing to guilt and begging for forgiveness, he was not only intent on repairing the past, but also on laying the foundation of a different - and better - future for the European continent," Cassarini said.

Bambang Suryono, chief editor of Harian InHua, a major Chinese newspaper in Indonesia, said: "Whether Abe is going to include key words such as 'aggression' and 'apology' from the Murayama Statement seriously matters for Japan to achieve reconciliation with its Asian neighbors."

Japan's increasingly radical defense policy has also clouded experts' hopes on the influence of Abe's statement.

In mid-July, the lower house of Japan's Parliament approved two controversial bills that would change the country's security laws, though they still need approval from the upper house.

Chris Ogden, senior lecturer in Asian security at the University of St. Andrews in the UK, said the major significance of this statement is its timing as it comes at a point of retrospect and prospect for Japanese foreign policy.

Ogden explained, "Retrospect, as it marks the 70th anniversary of the World War II that saw the end of Japan's expansionist and colonial period and reduced its regional status; and prospect, as impending legal changes concerning an expanding military role look to overcome pacifist tendencies in its behavior and constitution that have been in place since the mid to late 1940s."

The statement comes as legal changes are underway in Japan that would expand the role of the nation's military and overcome the pacifist tendencies set out by its Constitution, Ogden said.

Alessio Patalano, director of Undergraduate Program in War Studies at King's College London, said the statement will seek to link past, present, and future.

"In particular, this statement will take stock of the transformation of post-war Japan and identify key trajectories for Japan in years to come," Patalano said.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Monday she wanted Abe's statement to clearly uphold past cabinets's views on wartime history "to show the Japanese government's mature attitude in trying to make a fresh start in relationships with neighboring countries, including us."

Chang Jun in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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