War Resolution Does Little to Resolve Debate Over Japan's Role
Jun. 07, 1995
TOKYO (AP) _ Japan has found a face-saving way out of a bitter political dispute over how to commemorate World War II: express remorse, but stop short of apologizing.
Now the government is nervously awaiting the reaction of other Asian governments to a cautiously worded parliamentary resolution _ and bracing for a backlash at home by those who believe Japan has nothing to be sorry about.
The governing coalition battled for months over the war resolution. Liberals wanted a clearly worded apology and the powerful conservative bloc adamantly opposed it.
The fight split the already fragile coalition, even threatening to bring down the Japanese government.
In a compromise late Tuesday, both sides settled on a compromise draft that omitted the word ``apology'' but included a reference to Japan's colonialist aggression in the region.
The measure is expected to reach Parliament's floor for approval Thursday. Because the leaders of the major parties support it, its passage is virtually assured.
The agreement was a blow to Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who led the fight for an explicit apology. But he tried to put the best possible face on the defeat.
``I am glad we were able to overcome our differences,'' he told reporters Wednesday morning.
The resolution's key phrase reads: ``While giving thought to the many acts of colonial control and aggression that have occurred in modern world history, we recognize the acts of this kind carried out by our country in the past and the suffering that we caused the people of other countries, especially those of Asia, and we express our feeling of deep remorse.''
Previous prime ministers and Emperor Akihito have already made similar statements, but liberals have long sought a resolution by lawmakers, because Parliament is the highest organ of the state.
Though weaker than the draft submitted by Murayama's Socialists, the resolution expresses considerably more contrition than some earlier drafts.
One version proposed by the Liberal Democrats _ who, name notwithstanding, represent conservative interests including the powerful veterans' lobby _ suggested that Japan fought the war in self-defense after being pushed into a corner by American and European trade embargoes.
Although the compromise warded off a collapse of the coalition, the content appeared to please virtually no one, underscoring lingering sensitivities over the war.
``Instead of clarifying Japan's responsibility, it gives the impression that Japan just went along with it,'' Professor Hiroshi Tanaka of Hitotsubashi University told the Yomiuri newspaper.
``A Compromise Without Wisdom,'' lamented an editorial in the conservative Sankei, another major newspaper.
Initial reaction in the nations that bore the brunt of Japan's wartime aggression was muted. The resolution could soothe feelings in some Asian nations, especially South Korea and China, which had feared Japan might use the resolution to depict the war as a noble endeavor.
But its ambiguity might anger others. Emotions on the war issue have been running high.
Just before the announcement of the compromise, radical students in South Korea firebombed a Japanese cultural center to protest remarks last week by a prominent Japanese politician suggesting Japan's colonization of Korea was peaceful and legal.
Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 until Japan's World War II surrender in 1945, and many Koreans harbor bitter memories of Japanese attempts to stamp out their language and culture.
Seoul's Foreign Ministry sharply criticized the comments, and the politician, former Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe, retracted them.
Murayama was left to try to smooth things over diplomatically, despite any disappointment he may have been feeling over the resolution's wording.
``I hope,'' he said understatedly, ``we will be able to obtain the understanding of our Asian neighbors.''