(Sankei: March 4, 2015 – p. 6)
By Satoshi Sekoguchi
Twenty years ago on Aug. 15, 1995, then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued a statement on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II asserting that Japan “followed a mistaken national policy” in the past and expressing “deep remorse” and “heartfelt apology” for its “colonial rule and aggression.”
On the next day, three newspapers published editorials hailing this statement. Asahi Shimbun wrote that “it spells out explicitly (what the remorse and apology is for).” Mainichi said it was “unequivocal,” while Nihon Keizai Shimbun lauded it as “the right decision.” Only Sankei Shimbun questioned the statement, claiming that “only Murayama’s position as the leader of the Japan Socialist Party is given top priority and there is no trace of his pride as the prime minister of Japan.”
Whether to adhere to this Murayama Statement is now a major issue. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated that the statement he will issue this summer on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will “adhere to the Murayama Statement in general” although it will also be future-oriented. The first meeting of the experts’ panel on this “Abe Statement” was held on Feb. 25.
In reaction to this, Asahi warned that “if the purpose of the new statement is to shelve all the key expressions in the Murayama Statement, such as colonial rule and aggression, while claiming it will adhere to the general position of the statement, then the new statement should not be issued.”
Mainichi commented on “lessons of the 20th Century,” one of the themes cited by Abe, and asserted that “if the 70th anniversary statement will be talking about the lessons of the 20th Century for the purpose of watering down the core expressions of the Murayama Statement, this will not strengthen Japan’s position in the international community, but will rather provoke criticism.”
Nikkei also opined that “considering what Japan did in the past, these expressions are not exaggerated.”
It appears that the tone of these three papers today is still in keeping with their great appreciation of the Murayama Statement 20 years ago.
Yomiuri Shimbun, which refrained from evaluating the Murayama Statement directly 20 years ago, wrote in its editorial on Jan. 27: “The Prime Minister’s indicating that he will not be bound by the expressions in the Murayama Statement is questionable” and “failure to adhere to past cabinets’ interpretation of history may send out the wrong message to the international community.”
Tokyo Shimbun also called for adhering to the Murayama Statement, saying: “The core elements must not be changed.”
Amid this majority trend, Sankei is the only paper that has objected openly to the Murayama Statement. It warned that, “Japan has apologized unilaterally for its past ‘aggression’ and ‘colonial rule.’ We must not forget that this has been extremely damaging.” It also mentioned the fact that “(the Murayama Statement) was not explained fully to the cabinet members; it was presented abruptly to the cabinet meeting on Aug. 15. There have been questions about the contents and procedures.” Sankei further pointed out that cabinet ministers and others who objected to the Murayama Statement were criticized harshly in Japan, so “China and the ROK have long used history issues as an effective diplomatic card against Japan.” It expressed concern that “obsession with particular expressions may get Japan embroiled in China’s and the ROK’s warfare and propaganda over the history issues.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently stated in a speech at the UN Security Council that “certain people are trying to paper over the past crimes of aggression,” in an indirect criticism of Japan over the interpretation of history.
Asahi urged the Prime Minister to “contradict Wang Yi’s statement firmly in his own words.” This was probably based on the belief that a statement that is ambiguous about past history will not be convincing.
Mainichi asked the Prime Minister to come up with a definitive interpretation of history while also pointing to the harmful effect of China’s excessive use of history for political purposes. It suggested that “Japan should not allow itself to be provoked by China. It should make efforts to form international public opinion in order to win support from other countries.”
Sankei carried an editorial on Feb. 26 entitled: “Which is the one that should be criticized?” questioning China’s past invasions of neighboring countries. It stressed in its editorial on Feb. 27 that “the role Japan has played in the postwar period and the path it will take in the future are precisely the elements needed for a positive statement.”
China and the ROK have undoubtedly become much more anti-Japan in the 20 years since the Murayama Statement. What was this statement for, anyway?