Editorial: Abe's questionable interpretation of history endangers diplomatic relations

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been making unbelievable statements about his understanding of events that took place in World War II and on recent visits made by Cabinet ministers to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine.

In response to questions in the Diet regarding a 1995 war apology statement made by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, he said, "There is no definitive answer either in academia or in the international community on what constitutes aggression. Things that happen between countries appear different depending on which side you're looking from."

It is unclear which actions in Japan's history Abe was talking about. His statement could be interpreted as a denial that the Sino-Japanese War that began with the 1931 Marco Polo Bridge Incident was a war of aggression. It could also be interpreted as a declaration that Japan's colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula was not an act of aggression. In any case, Abe was casting doubt on Murayama's apology.

Indeed, Abe has changed course from his initial stand that his administration would carry on the Murayama statement, saying, "The Abe Cabinet is not necessarily keeping to it."

In addition to Murayama, in 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi issued an apology for Japan's wartime aggression.

Abe is planning to issue in 2015 a "future-oriented" statement to Asia on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. Do his recent statements mean that he will carry on the spirit of the statements made by Murayama and Koizumi, but not maintain their interpretation that Japan had committed acts of aggression?

What could be behind the prime minister's deviation from his initial promise? Has the 70-percent approval rating of his Cabinet gotten the better of him, allowing his latent objections to Murayama's statement to emerge? If that's the case, we cannot let the situation go unchecked. Regardless of the debates being carried out in international law circles about what constitutes aggression, as Abe's two predecessors said in their statements, there is no mistaking Japan's colonial rule and aggression as historical fact. Any attempts by Abe to distort these facts would be highly problematic.

The prime minister has also lashed back at objections from South Korea and China against visits by three Cabinet ministers -- including Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso -- to Yasukuni Shrine.

"It is only natural to honor the spirits of those who lost their precious lives for the country. Our ministers will not succumb to any threats," he said.

Admittedly, South Korea's cancellation of its foreign minister's visit to Japan was excessive. However, Abe's combative declaration that Japanese government officials will "not succumb to any threats" lacks level-headedness. Especially in light of the North Korean nuclear and missile threats, and the crucial need for unity among Japan, China and South Korea, this is not the way to go about foreign diplomacy.

April 26, 2013(Mainichi Japan)