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Editorial: Abe turning deaf ear to voices from Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seems to have callous disregard for the desperate calls coming from Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the elimination of nuclear weapons.


It is difficult to think otherwise, given Abe’s remarks and the words of survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of the two Japanese cities and local government leaders on this year’s anniversaries of the nuclear devastation.


In an Aug. 9 ceremony at Nagasaki Peace Park to mark the 74th anniversary of the city’s atomic bombing, Yoshiro Yamawaki, 85, speaking as the representative of hibakusha atomic bomb survivors, urged the government to “demonstrate a resolute commitment to pursue the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons while hibakusha are still alive.”


As he wanted to connect with a wider audience about his experiences in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Yamawaki had taught himself English and narrated his own hibakusha stories overseas as well.


In his speech at the ceremony, Abe stressed afresh that it is Japan’s mission to continue efforts to realize a “world without nuclear weapons.”


But Abe’s actions toward the issue are only adding to a sense of frustration and anger among residents in the atomic-bombed cities.


Abe has been reacting negatively to calls for Japan to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which bans the development, possession and use of nuclear arms.


Joining the treaty is viewed as a symbol of the country’s “resolute commitment” to the elimination of nuclear weapons.


The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which provided an impetus to end the Cold War, has collapsed as U.S. President Donald Trump has withdrawn the United States from the pact. And the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which restricts the numbers of warheads in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, among other things, is also in danger of crumbling.


Discussions at the Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) have highlighted a deep rift between the nuclear powers and non-nuclear countries over the approach to nuclear arms reductions.


In the Aug. 9 ceremony, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue expressed concerns about the situation, saying, “The achievements of humankind and the results of our longstanding efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons are collapsing one after another.”


The nuclear weapons ban treaty, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in July 2017, was born out of the movement driven by the urgent calls of hibakusha.


But Abe did not refer to this landmark treaty in his speeches at the ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


At a news conference, he described the pact as not being tethered to “the realities of national security.”


It is true that Japan is protected by the “nuclear umbrella” provided by the United States, but that fact should not be used by Tokyo as an excuse for turning its back on the treaty.


Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki referred to the nuclear powers’ control over talks for nuclear arms reductions and said these powers appear to be “concealing their escapism by using the wise-sounding word ‘reality.’”


During the two years since the nuclear ban treaty was adopted with the support of 122 countries, the number of nations that have ratified it has increased to half of the 50 required for the pact to come into effect.


The Japanese government has been trying to play the self-appointed role of being a bridge between the nuclear and non-nuclear camps by sponsoring discussions by the Group of Eminent Persons for Substantive Advancement of Nuclear Disarmament, a panel of experts at home and abroad. But it remains unclear what kind of role Tokyo intends to play.


After meeting with Abe, the leader of a Nagasaki hibakusha group criticized the administration’s policy, saying Japan should hold negotiations with the nuclear powers if it wants to act as a bridge between the two camps. The representative described the government’s behavior concerning the cause as “all talk and no action.”


If Japan simply continues following the U.S. lead on this matter, the message it sends out as the only country that has suffered nuclear attacks in war could lose credibility.

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