Koizumi Apologizes

Asahi Shimbun reports:

In an apparent attempt to mend fences, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Friday expressed "deep remorse'' and a "heartfelt apology'' to Asian nations that suffered during Japan's colonization and wartime aggression.


In making clear Japan's stand on its past history, Koizumi borrowed phrases from a 1995 statement by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama that forged Japan's basic stance.

"Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility,'' Koizumi said.

"And with feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in mind, Japan has resolutely maintained, consistently since the end of World War II, to never turn into a military power but an economic power, and its principle of resolving all matters by peaceful means without recourse to use of force.'' 

Is this whole affair over and done with?

Well, why should I believe anything a politician says?  He can be lying, or maybe he is just uttering some wishful thinking, or he can be sincere at that moment but he can always change his mind afterwards, or he can be totally bamboozled by someone else.  Here I am reminded of this abject declaration, made by Neville Chamberlain on September 30, 1938 after a meeting with Adolf Hitler:

We, the German Führer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for two countries and for Europe.  We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.  We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.  My good friends this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time.

Watch not what the politicians say -- watch what actually happens.

In Hong Kong, a local newspaper Ming Pao went for an exercise in grammar-parsing (see Kelvin at SimonWorld).  But it is noteworthy that the headline of that piece was "An apology that has no sincerity; the words are different from the deeds; who is going to believe this?"  Where does this shrillness come from?

Ming Pao noted that Koizumi used the same language as Murayama, who had been lauded for improving on previous language (it used to be just 'remorse' and 'apology' for the preceding 50 years, but Murayama added the adjectives).  However, Ming Pao enumerated a list of events during the ten years since Murayama used those words:

Ming Pao therefore suggests: If these were the things that happened after Murayama used those words in 1995, then we can expect more of the same since Koizumi is using the same words today.

What is the scorecard today on those four issues listed by Ming Pao?  So far, though, Koizumi has not yet visited the Yasukuni shrine this year.  Members of Parliament in Koizumi's party did attend, as is their tradition.  Historically, Koizumi has visited the Yasukuni shrine four times since becoming Prime Minister, drawing protests from Asian countries in each case.  If Koizumi goes again, then his latest apology will be considered worthless.  Of course, Koizumi has the right to do so as a private citizen, but the Asian countries also have the right to be angry.

On the textbook issue, Sing Tao took a look at Koizumi's apology.  The newspaper quoted another part of Murayama's 1995 speech: "We should convey the tragedy of war to our younger generation, so that they will not repeat the mistakes of the past."  The Sing Tao editorial concludes with: "Koizumi's apology this time has the body of the Murayama's speech, but it missed the spirit.  The spirit is not contained in beautiful prose.  It is about how Japan educates its future generations to properly regard the sorrows and pains that militarism brought Japan and its neighbors."  Why were there wide-spread anti-Japanese demonstrations in China and Korea this month (and not before)?  It is about those textbooks.  If nothing is done about this, the same thing will happen in four years' time when new textbooks are submitted, ad infinitum.  The Asians cannot reconcile "deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology" with textbooks that proclaim that they should be grateful for being liberated from western imperialists and introduced to economic co-prosperity. 

The Taiwan independence issue is covered by China Post

The Chinese president said China and Japan could improve ties if Tokyo refused to support any moves toward independence by Taiwan. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949, but Beijing still claims the island as its territory.  "The question of Taiwan should be correctly handled. It is hoped that the Japanese side will demonstrate through concrete action its adherence to the one-China policy and opposition to Taiwan independence," Hu said. 

At a meeting between foreign ministers, Xinhua quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura: "Japan does not support 'Taiwan's independence.'"  But that was the position Japan had held before signing the security agreement with the United States.  Words won't mean anything, and it all depends on what Japan does in the future.

It was important for Koizumi to say those words, because his previous silence was deafening and escalating the tension.  On this day, he used language that matched Murayama's.  But this whole brouhaha was not about extracting yet another verbal apology; it was about a number of concrete issues.  From now on, it all depends what happens on those issues.  If Koizumi visits the Yasukuni shrine again, Korea will explode in rage and maybe not even China can clamp down on its own citizens.  If the history textbook by the Society for History Textbook Reform gets adopted by a significant number of schools this summer, there will also be trouble.