05.03.2015 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Special commission to assess the role of Japan in World War II

J5345222The issue of the forthcoming speech of Japan’s Prime-Minister Shinzō Abe on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II is gradually becoming one of the most important for the current political situation in the North-East Asia.

What Shinzō Abe says at this event will be closely analysed not only in Seoul and Beijing, but also in Washington, where early this February the updated National Security Strategy once more confirmed the course to “rebalance” the American foreign policy towards Asia-Pacific Region.

The signs of this began to be observed de-facto as far at the turn of the 90s – 2000s, and a decade later this policy was officially “legalized” by the State Secretary Hillary Clinton in the well-known article published in Foreign Policy in 2011. Although the main motive for such shift of American interests in the Asia-Pacific Region was quite obvious many years before and was defined by the word “China”.

The US foreign policy strategy on the international arena that was gradually developing in respect of its main competitor was finally completed in the second half of the last decade. It included both containment and “constructive integration” of PRC into the global political and economic processes.

The “tight-rope walker strategy”, as it was termed by the American experts, can be successful if the dynamics of increasing the significance of any of these components at the expense of the other does not exceed some level (not easily defined in practice).

The process of transformation of the relationship of the main American ally, Japan, with China, as well as with another ally – South Korea, becomes here the most important one.

The aggravation of these relationships seen in recent years is fraught for the US with the “excessive” amplification of the containment of China, which in its turn may unbalance the relationships of the major world powers and cause unpredictable ramifications in the region and in the world as a whole.

Meanwhile the factor of recent history becomes more noticeable in the growing tensions between Japan, China and South Korea in recent years. Shinzō Abe will have to say something more or less meaningful about the current official position on this matter on the upcoming anniversary event. He wishes he was able to escape that.

The matter he will have to address is very sensitive and that’s putting it mildly. The “mean laughter” of the external “interested observers” that may be caused by the altogether regrettable words of Japan’s Prime-Minister on the matter may cancel out the perspective (that is already quite thin) of the positive development of the regional processes.

Trying to figure out what is more important for the development of the situation in the APR – the practical acts of the modern Japan or the self-assessment of the recent history has no more sense than the chicken or the egg causality dilemma.

The mere fact of the utmost importance in 2015 of the evaluation by the modern Japan of the militaristic period of its history not only for the domestic but also for the foreign policy. This issue also has been a matter of fierce debate inside the country.

The hypothetical policy towards remilitarisation of Japan is unacceptable almost to all opposition parties (and even for the New Komeito, that is the “lesser partner” of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan) and one of its features from their perspective may by the partial reconsideration of the role of the country in the Pacific War.

The assessment of this role in the so called “Tomiichi Murayama statement” (the Prime Minister at the time) in 1995 quite satisfies the inner political opposition and the “external observers”. Nevertheless already during the first term of Shinzō Abe, that is in the second half of the last decade, the tendency for the shift from the essence of the said “statement” was noticeable.

The creation on 19 February 2015 of a special government commission evidences the utmost importance for the country of the process of the formulation of the official position of the country towards the assessment of the role of Japan in the last World War.

It is not a common occurrence when such bodies are formed. The Government of Japan uses them when it is necessary to solve a problem of truly national scale. Among them are, for example, the elaboration of the long-term defence strategy and the national power sector development strategy.

The output of such commissions as a rule is some kind of a document a couple of dozens pages long in which the problem specified by the government is thoroughly reviewed and some specific recommendations are given in the end.

Such non-regulatory documents represent the position of the expert community on some “one-time” problem that is important for the government. That being said, the high qualification and the thoroughness of work of the committee members commonly leads to such recommendations becoming the base for the government documents and (as in this case) official statements.

Nevertheless the current Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga thought fit to stress that the very non-regulatory nature of the upcoming report of the newly established committee, having noticed that the Prime-Minister “does not have to accept the whole opinion“.

The potential content of the awaited recommendations today can only be predicted in broad terms based on a few indirect signs such as personal details of the Chairman and some of the committee members.

It is headed by the 79-year-old Taizo Nishimuro, current president of the state-owned conglomerate Japan Post that in 2013 was 13th in the Forbes’s largest world companies list. The foreign policy views of the committee head are considered neutral. He had a working experience in USA as a representative of another Japanese business giant Toshiba Corp. He is currently a co-chairman of the Sino-Japanese friendship committee.

The practical work of the committee is guided be the president of the private upscale International University of Japan, 66-year-old Shinichi Kitaoka who is said to be “a man close to Shinzō Abe”. It is asserted that he played a central role in the preparation of the last year government decision to lift the self-imposed restriction of the right for a collective self-defence.

This decision became an important step in the general process of Japan’s “normalization”. Concerns regarding the ramifications of the said process can be easily seen in the present “historical” claims towards Tokyo on the part of Beijing and Seoul.

Other 14 members of the committee are equally respectable gentlemen with an obvious wide spectre of foreign policy preferences.

It is noted that the government tried to make sure that the composition of the commission does not look like an “Abe’s witnesses club”. Although more than a half of its members more or less have experience in solving problems of the current Premier-Minister.

And finally all the above stated justifies the presumption that the in expert evaluation of Japan’s role in the World War II one can only speculate on the extent of deviation from the “Tomiichi Murayama statement” of 1995 in the upcoming report’s contents and conclusions.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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