You often hear from Japanese politicians that the Japanese government has already apologized many times for the massive and inhumane atrocities that the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted all over Asia during WWII. So they asked “Why is another apology necessary? How many apologies do you need before it is enough?” For example, they point to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent statement on not revising the 1993 Kono Statement on Comfort Women (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/world/asia/japan-prime-minister-says-he-will-not-revise-1993-apology-to-wartime-prostitutes.html?_r=0).
If you look even just slightly deeper into this issue, you will come to the undoubtable conclusion that even though almost 69 years have elapsed since the end of WWII, Japan has never offered a meaningful official apology.
First let’s address the recent Abe comment. Since Abe took office again as the PM in Dec. 2012, he has made many contradictory statements, and his appointees and close collaborators have made many ultra right-wing statements denying various aspects of history, including claiming that the comfort women were just paid prostitutes and the atrocity events in Asia during WWII, such as the Nanking Massacre, were just fabrications by the victims.
This set of recent events is similar to many other events during the last several decades. A so-called “apology” by one Japanese political leader is usually preceded or followed by contradictory statements by other political leaders. In other words, the Japanese government has never made a consistent statement at their highest level of government. Usually these so-called “apologies” are made just before an important meeting with other countries’ leaders (such as Korea’s or China’s) so that the meeting will take place or can proceed more smoothly, or to deflect large amount of foreign criticism of their position. In the recent Abe case, there has been a lot of criticism and pressure on Abe from the U.S. (including a 3/2/14 editorial of the NYT) that Abe has gone too far with respect to not acknowledging and apologizing for Japan’s war-time atrocities.
The Japanese government also likes to refer to the funds that they set up for comfort women. However, that fund was not an official government fund (even though the Japanese government may have provided the fund to a NGO) and was not accompanied by an official government apology. That was why most of the comfort women rejected that money.
An official apology should come from the highest level of the Japanese government, i.e., a resolution passed by the Japanese Diet and her PM, and not just from her Chief Cabinet Secretary (which was Kono’s position). Please compare with Germany, where the apology came from her Chancellor at a public site kneeling down and apologizing. Furthermore, it is illegal in Germany to openly question the existence of the Holocaust, while Japan is busy revising their textbooks.
Abe also recently visited and paid tribute at the Yasukuni Shrine where 14 Class A convicted and executed Japanese War Criminals are enshrined. What do you think the Western world’s reaction would be if the German Chancellor would visit and pay tribute at a site honoring Hitler?
That is why this recent statement by Abe is just another PR-like “apology” and has absolutely no meaning or significance. This recent statement is far from what the Japanese government should do to acknowledge and apologize for the massive and inhumane atrocities the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted all over Asia during WWII. Until that happens, it would be difficult for Japan and countries like China and Korea to have truly meaningful diplomatic dialogues.