It is an important milestone for postwar Japan-U.S. diplomacy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Along with U.S. President Barack Obama, the prime minister paid tribute to the victims of the Pearl Harbor attack by the former Imperial Japanese Navy.
The visit is a historic climax in a series of reconciliation efforts between Japan and the United States, from the prime minister’s speech to the U.S. Congress in April last year, to his statement in August last year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of war and Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in May this year.
In his speech, the prime minister said, “We must never repeat the horrors of war again,” reiterating his view that Japan will firmly keep its “vow never again to wage war.”
Tolerance is key
As the prime minister mentioned, Japan can take pride in the path it has followed as a peace-loving nation for more than 70 years since the end of the war. But peace cannot be realized through inaction. Japan should continue to put ceaseless efforts into securing its security and regional stability.
Abe pointed out that “the power of reconciliation” — that has united Japan and the United States, which fought a war each other, as “allies with deep and strong ties” — is needed to solve issues around the world. The prime minister also said the two countries “are now … taking responsibility for appealing to the world about the importance of tolerance and the power of reconciliation.”
In his speech, Abe did not mention any historical perceptions as he did in the speech in Congress by using such phrases as “deep remorse” or “deep repentance.” Abe’s intention to focus on the future is appropriate.
After hugging Abe after his speech, an elderly U.S. veteran said he himself was an embodiment of the Japan-U.S. reconciliation. At the same time, very few interested people in the United States saw the lack of apology as a problem.
Like the reactions shown by atomic-bomb survivors when Obama visited Hiroshima, the American attitude is a symbol of matured Japan-U.S. relations more than 70 years after the end of the war.
“Remember Pearl Harbor” was a phrase that represented U.S. hostility against Japan after the surprise attack on the harbor. But it would be gratifying if Pearl Harbor became a symbol of reconciliation between Japan and the United States in the future.
The prime minister stressed the importance of the “alliance of hope” between Japan and the United States, which are tackling various international issues. Obama quoted the Japanese phrase “otagai no tame ni” (with and for each other), appealing for cooperation between the two countries.
Expand security ties
The Japan-U.S. alliance functioned as a major pillar of the Western Bloc during the Cold War. Since the end of the Cold War, it has been a public good that supports peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific amid many elements of instability in the region. Countries have a high opinion of this alliance.
To put what Abe calls “the alliance of hope” into tangible practice, both Japan and the United States must hold rounds of strategic dialogue on political and economic matters even more closely than before. It also is important to build multilayered, cooperative ties with friendly nations such as South Korea, Australia and India, and to deal with problems.
Before attending a ceremony to console the souls of the war dead, Abe and Obama held their final bilateral talks and confirmed their position to further strengthen the bilateral alliance. Concerning the fact that a Chinese aircraft carrier had sailed in the Western Pacific, both leaders agreed to keep a close watch on the situation from medium- to long-term perspectives.
The four-year relationship between Abe and Obama initially got off to a bumpy start. At times, their ties were strained by Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine and a Tokyo-Moscow diplomatic thaw.
Abe steadily consolidated a relationship of trust with Obama through achievements including the enactment of security-related legislation and progress on the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago.
The fact that the Obama administration’s “rebalance” strategy that places greater emphasis on Asia meshed with the Abe administration’s concept of a “proactive contribution to peace” that expands Japan’s international role also has been a tailwind for the leaders’ relationship.
Recently, Asia has seen many increasingly serious national security concerns.
China is conducting a rapid military buildup and is attempting to use its might to self-servingly change the status quo, such as by militarizing manmade islands in the South China Sea. North Korea has ignored warnings and sanctions by the international community and pushed ahead with five nuclear tests in total, as well as repeatedly firing various ballistic missiles.
Based on the Japan-U.S. defense cooperation guidelines revised in April 2015, efforts will be needed to improve the alliance’s deterrent effect by having the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military regularly hold joint training drills and jointly conduct patrol and surveillance operations.
Hold talks with Trump
Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the next U.S. president on Jan. 20. It is worrisome that the direction of his foreign policy for Asia remains unclear.
Trump has repeatedly mentioned he wants Japan to pay more of the cost of stationing U.S. military forces here. Trump’s announcement that he will pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact has rocked Asia’s free-trade system.
Abe suddenly and unexpectedly held unofficial talks with Trump in mid-November, and arrangements are being made for a formal meeting in late January.
Strong connections between Japan and the United States have been constructed over many years at every level, including among politicians, bureaucrats, uniformed officers and businesspeople. It is imperative that Abe and Trump honestly exchange opinions on, and share an awareness of, the significance and new direction of the bilateral alliance, based on this foundation.