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Japan @ the World archive
War reflection can form new identity

What should we do to overcome the history problem, even if by a little, on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II? As far as Japan is cncerned, it should formulate policies and take concrete measures to advance the following initiatives:

・Re-establish the statement made by the prime minister on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war as Japan's fundamental recognition of the past.

In 1995, the government released Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's statement. It may still be inadequate but it admitted Japan's war responsibility and expressed the feeling of remorse more frankly than any other official statement that had been made public up to that time. However, the statement is not well-known throughout Asia and the rest of the world.

Last summer, when then Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi met with her Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, Kawaguchi referred to the ``Murayama statement.'' In response to Li's request, Kawaguchi showed him the statement written in kanji.

However, according to a senior Japanese government official who was there, ``It did not seem to ring a bell (with Li). It is my guess that he didn't know about it.''

Li is not the only one. In fact, it is questionable how many Japanese actually know about it. Why? One reason is that it is more commonly known as the ``Murayama statement'' and not ``the prime minister's statement.'' The appellation almost suggests that it was an ``irregular'' comment made during the coalition government led by Murayama.

・ Formulate East Asian regionalism and regional cooperation.

Never before have relations among East Asian countries, including economic integration, been as close as now. For Japan, this is an ideal opportunity to build a relationship of trust and reconciliation with Asia. Regional cooperation must not be stalled because of the history problem. When we think about the past, Japan's responsibility is twice as grave in this regard.

As a U.S. ally, can Japan make an East Asian community compatible with the Japan-U.S. alliance and have it play the role of a ballast for peace and stability to take root in the region? This is none other than a 100-year national plan for Japan.

・Share Japan's postwar experiences as well as the assets and resources it built in the process as a major civilian power for world peace and stability and economic advancement.

The Japan-South Korea reconciliation process that Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung started in 1998 was made possible only because the president commended Japan's peace Constitution and postwar experiences such as its provision of aid to developing countries.

For Japan, ``looking to the future'' means passing down the essence of its postwar experience of living together with international society to posterity and advancing it.

Incidentally, Indonesia will host a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference this year. Leaders of nearly 100 Asian and African nations are expected to come together.

Prime Minister Koizumi is also expected to attend. He should take advantage of the occasion to show Japan's reflection on the war and the lessons it learned from it. He should also present Japan's new role and responsibility in the United Nations and show what it can do to help developing nations in nation building and personnel training, conflict prevention and maintenance of peace. He should also propose a notion to promote new solidarity for Asia and Africa.

・Contemplate the history problem while considering long-term national interests.

After the Chinese president requested the prime minister to refrain from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, he responded by saying, ``So long as China tells me not to go, there is no option not to go.'' But such a reaction is too passive and accommodating.

The lessons from history should help us to better our lives and become more astute.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone made an official visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 1985 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the end of the war.

That time, too, Japan-China relations became strained, causing Nakasone to stop his shrine visits. Nakasone explained to the Diet that he stopped for Japan's ``national interests.'' Politicians are urged to take to heart that a nation's leader is the nation's ``diplomat in-chief.''

・ ``What kind of a country should Japan be?''

In the same Diet explanation, Nakasone said, ``Japan also has the proper ability to reflect on itself to adapt to democracy'' and stressed ``the need to internationally demonstrate'' this. How sincerely can Japan reflect n its failures and mistakes, turn it into momentum for a fresh start and reflect it in the country's future national image and vision?

The process itself creates Japan's identity. In other words, what kind of a country does Japan want to make itself and how does it want to be remembered in history? This is a problem in the realm of aspiration.

Let us mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war with wide, open hearts.


This winds up Yoichi Funabashi's column for the time being. (2005/01/05)

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