Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced that he will visit Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu together with U.S. President Barack Obama later this month. We hope the opportunity will serve to deepen mutual understanding and bring about genuine reconciliation between Japan and the United States.
This year marks the 75th anniversary since Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 ushered in the Pacific War. While Japan and the United States have forged a solid alliance since the end of World War II, underneath there lie mixed feelings about the war among the public of both countries.
For Japan, in particular, the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for the United States, Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, have remained as thorns in the side of bilateral relations.
In May this year, Obama visited Hiroshima as the first sitting U.S. president to do so, and in turn, Abe is scheduled to pay his respects at Pearl Harbor to mourn the victims as the first incumbent Japanese prime minister to do so. These actions are to open up a new chapter toward the goal of true reconciliation between the two countries.
From Abe's Dec. 5 announcement on his coming visit to Pearl Harbor, it is evident that there are three objectives of the trip -- to mourn the souls of the victims and pledge for peace, to send out a message of reconciliation, and to reaffirm the significance of strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance. For Abe to visit Pearl Harbor at this point of time may also be aimed at reinforcing the bilateral alliance ahead of the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's administration.
Since Trump has asserted that the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is unfair, there are uncertainties over the future of the bilateral alliance. Trump lashed out at Obama over his visit to Hiroshima by tweeting, "Does President Obama ever discuss the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor while he's in Japan? Thousands of American lives lost."
Prime Minister Abe apparently thought it better to try to prevent any uncertainties over Japan-U.S. relations by visiting Pearl Harbor while Obama is in office.
While Abe's decision to visit Pearl Harbor bears significance, the contents of his speech at the site will be called into question. The Japanese government said Abe will not offer an apology there over the war. President Obama didn't offer an apology for the U.S. atomic bombings while in Hiroshima, either.
During his speech at the U.S. Congress in April last year, Abe referred to "feelings of deep remorse over the war" and the fact that "Our actions brought suffering to people in Asian countries." At Pearl Harbor, Abe is urged to humbly face up to history and speak out in his own words about Japan's remorse over World War II, instead of only expressing a pledge for peace and talking about the future of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
It is easier said than done to achieve reconciliation between Japan and the United States. Such reconciliation won't be brought about through the two leaders' visits to Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor alone. Let us highly appreciate our predecessors' efforts -- both political and grassroots movements in both countries -- for creating an environment where both countries' leaders can visit the sites that are symbolic of the war.
Japan also holds a responsibility to remember the tremendous damage it caused to China and other Asian countries during the war and to lead reconciliation efforts throughout the region.