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Analysis: PM Abe stresses Japan-U.S. reconciliation in speech to Congress

  • 2015-04-30 15:00:00
  • , Asahi
  • Translation

(Asahi: April 30, 2015 – p. 2)

 

 By Yusuke Murayama, Taketsugu Sato in Washington

 

 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is on a visit to the U.S., became the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress on the morning of April 29 (predawn hours of April 30 in Japan). He focused on postwar Japan-U.S. reconciliation and called on the world to build a future-oriented relationship in security and the economic area. In light of concerns in the U.S., he also discussed his view of history in depth.

 

 "It is because of our strong belief in democratic principles and ideals that Japan associates herself with the free nations of the world."

 

 Abe quoted from the speech of his grandfather, Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, to Congress 58 years ago at the beginning of his address. He was greeted with a standing ovation from the U.S. lawmakers. Abe was very much conscious of his grandfather in this speech.

 

 In an era of intense conflict between the free nations and the communist camp, Kishi stressed that “it is most important to cooperate with the U.S.” He talked about “opening the door to a new era in the Japan-U.S. relationship” in his speech. He did not apologize for starting the war and was consistently “future-oriented.”

 

 Abe had been very keen on addressing Congress during his visit that coincides with the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. He referred to Kishi again in the middle of his speech and said: “I am truly happy about the decision he made for Japan to ally itself with the U.S. and to go forward as a member of the Western world.”

 

 He also conveyed his fondness of the U.S. early in his speech. He reminisced on his days as a student, telling his audience: “My first encounter with America goes back to my days as a student, when I spent a spell in California.”

 

 The government began sounding out the Obama administration about the speech early this year. Members of Congress were also contacted. In early March, Abe’s speech writer, Cabinet Secretariat adviser Tomohiko Taniguchi travelled to the U.S. to coordinate the wording of the speech. A careful study of the contents of the speech started after he returned. Abe personally revised the draft several times.

 

 The Obama administration, which saw this as a good opportunity to strengthen the bilateral relationship, also took steps to realize the speech. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner made the official announcement in late March. However, there were still concerns about Abe’s view of history in the U.S. administration, Congress, and media, especially because a joint meeting of Congress was where President Roosevelt declared war against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

 

 Therefore, Abe’s speech gave emphasis to the path Japan and the U.S. had taken toward reconciliation. He also made it a point to mention “Pearl Harbor,” “Bataan,” and other battles engraved on the World War II Memorial.

 

 The Obama administration had been wary of Abe’s remarks on history because antagonism between two U.S. allies, Japan and the ROK, may disrupt its diplomatic strategy, which will benefit China or North Korea. Therefore, the U.S. kept conveying the following messages: reconciliation and adherence to past prime ministers’ statements.

 

 During his tour of Japan and the ROK in early April, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said that, “We would like to encourage Prime Minister Abe to bid farewell to past legacy with clear statements and a political decision, in order to achieve true reconciliation.” Former State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki also pointed out that, “The apologies made by former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama and former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono were important turning points in improvement of relations with neighboring countries.”

 

 On the other hand, there was also an opinion in the Obama administration that “giving the Prime Minister too little options and tying his hands should be avoided,” according to a senior government official. The U.S. refrained from going into such details as whether terms used in the Murayama Statement, such as “colonial rule,” “aggression,” or “apology,” should be included.

 

 However, the U.S. had continued to make its demands right until before Abe addressed Congress. After Abe stated on a BS Fuji TV program on April 20 that there is no need to repeat words included in the Murayama and Koizumi Statements, Deputy Presidential Assistant Ben Rhodes responded with: “The U.S. will urge Prime Minister Abe to work constructively on the history issues in a manner concurring with past statements issued by Japan, in order to build good relations and ease tension in the region.”

 

 On April 28, the day before the speech, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed a resolution on the Japan-U.S. relationship which underscores the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance, but also notes that “Prime Minister Abe has indicated repeatedly that he will adhere to the view of history of previous prime ministers, including the Murayama Statement,” as a way of stressing this point. (Abridged)

 

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