JAPAN, CHINA, and SOUTH KOREA: When Sorry Isn’t Good Enough

LEXIE TUCKER WRITES – Big occasions call for speeches that will be remembered for decades. Unfortunately, for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered one that disappointed many.

Both China and South Korea wait anxiously every time the Prime Minister is scheduled to make a statement regarding the war, and for good reason. Under Japan’s occupation and colonial rule of both countries, many were abused, murdered, or exploited as “comfort women” by Japanese troops.  

When he presented his speech on August 15, Prime Minister Abe opted for a vague approach and had this to say: “I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences…Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war…[these] will remain unshakable into the future.”

This failed to placate the Chinese state media. According to The Straits Times, The Global Times, a tabloid with close ties to the ruling Communist Party, stated that Abe’s speech was “nothing to be proud of” and that it only met “the minimum demands of China, South Korea and the international community.” In addition to this, the Xinhua state news agency said Abe’s statement “…did involve a sort of vague apology, but one that should you have blinked, you would have missed.”

South Korea’s currently ruling Saenuri Party released an official statement expressing a mixed reaction to the speech, stating, “We think of the statement as meaningful as (Abe) mentioned remorse and apology for the past history.” However, they believe that it had “…room for improvement because it did not directly mention remorse and apology for Japan’s past history of aggression, but only expressed them in a roundabout way in the past tense.”  

In contrast, the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, said they believed Abe’s statement was “deeply disappointing for lacking sincere remorse and apology.” They believe that although Abe used the four key words included in the vital 1995 statement issued by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama  —  “colonial rule,” “aggression,” “apology” and “remorse” — he “avoided responsibility in a tactful way.”

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said that the speech contained “regrettable elements,” but did not elaborate.

Perhaps Abe should take a cue from Emperor Akihito, who used the words “deep remorse” for the first time in his own speech that same day: “Reflecting on our past and bearing in mind the feelings of deep remorse over the last war, I earnestly hope that the ravages of war will never be repeated.”  

The wounds left by this bleak part of history have left deep scars and, depending on who you ask, they may never fully heal. What constitutes an adequate apology that will no longer need to be repeated time and again? Seventy years later and the world still doesn’t know the answer.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.