April 24, 2013 12:30
In a further lurch to the far right, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told lawmakers on Tuesday that he does not believe Japan's occupation of other Asian countries during World War II can be considered "invasions."
Abe claimed there are no set international or academic definitions of the word. "It depends on the point of view of individual countries," he said, referring to a statement in 1995 by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, which apologized to all Asian victims of Japanese aggression and from which rightwingers are scrambling to distance themselves.
Japan occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945 and invaded China and several Southeast Asian nations during an aggressive expansion to create what was billed as the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."
Experts here slammed Abe's remarks. Ko Sang-tu at Yonsei University said, "That is simply absurd. It's like saying Hitler's invasion of Poland wasn't really an invasion. If a German chancellor had said the same thing, he or she would have had to resign."
Abe told lawmakers on Monday that he does not feel bound by the Murayama statement. The global press was alarmed, with the New York Times saying he sought to whitewash his country's World War II atrocities, while the Economist warned that the right-leaning Japanese Cabinet is a bad sign for the region.
Abe said Japan's pacifist constitution was put together by what he called "occupying forces," referring to the victorious U.S. at the end of the war.
The constitution, which stipulates the country's desire for peace and pledges a policy of non-aggression, effectively "entrusted the lives and safety of the public to the goodwill of other countries," he claimed.
This suggests he is throwing his weight behind moves from the far right to revise the constitution so the Japanese military can launch preemptive strikes abroad.
On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and other Japanese politicians visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which houses the remains of Japan's war dead including convicted war criminals. On Tuesday, 168 members of the Diet followed suit, the biggest number of lawmakers since 1989.
The Japanese media were critical of the stunt. The Asahi Shimbun urged cabinet members to exercise "restraint" in speech as well as action, while the Mainichi Shimbun warned Japan's "national interests are at risk" if such strain is put on cooperation with China and South Korea in trying to rein in North Korea.
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