Japan panel discusses PM speech for anniversary of WWII end

2015-02-25 17:02
Shinzo Abe. (File: AFP)

Shinzo Abe. (File: AFP)

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Tokyo - A panel of experts appointed by Japan's prime minister met for the first time on Wednesday to discuss what he should say in a statement marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, fuelling speculation that he may water down previous government apologies for the country's wartime past.

Japan issued a landmark apology on the 50th anniversary in 1995 under then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, for the first time acknowledging its colonisation and aggression in parts of Asia before and during the war. In 2005, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also apologised.

Current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appointed a 16-member panel — 10 academics, three business leaders, two journalists and an international aid worker — to seek advice on what to say in a statement he plans to make on the 15 August anniversary of the war's end.

Abe, who took office in late 2012, initially signalled his intention to revise the 1995 Murayama statement, triggering criticism from China and South Korea. He now says his Cabinet stands by the 1995 apology, but that he wants to issue a more forward-looking statement on the anniversary, raising suspicion that he will somehow water down the apology.

About one-third of the panel members are regulars on Abe's policy advisory committees, though they exclude his associates with the most extreme right-wing views. The appointment of centrist Asia experts Takashi Shiraishi and Shin Kawashima and a journalist from the liberal-leaning Mainichi newspaper give the panel some balance.

China and South Korea have sent warnings on the statement. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking at a UN public debate, warned against attempts to "whitewash past crimes of aggression". In Seoul, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Abe's statement should not backpedal from past apologies.

The debate over the statement reflects a simmering divide in Japan, 70 years after the war.

On one side are those who say the accounts of Japan's wartime atrocities are falsified or exaggerated, and that it's time to restore pride among Japanese in their country. On the other are liberal defenders of Japan's Constitution, who don't want the country to forget its colonisation of Korea and invasion of China and Southeast Asia, and the disaster they spawned.

Read more on:    un  |  shinzo abe  |  japan  |  world war ii

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