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In-depth Seventieth Anniversary Statement
Interpreting Abe’s War Anniversary Statement

On August 14, 2015, Prime Minister Abe issued a statement on the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Three advisory board members who played key roles in drafting the report on which the statement was based discuss its significance, overseas reaction, and likely impact on East Asian relations.

Shiraishi Takashi

Shiraishi TakashiSenior editor of Is concurrently president of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and president of the Institute of Developing Economies, Japan External Trade Organization. Areas of expertise include international relations and Southeast Asian politics. Born in 1950 in Ehime Prefecture. Received his MA in international relations from the University of Tokyo and PhD from Cornell University. Was a member of Prime Minister Abe’s Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the 21st Century.(*1)

Kawashima Shin

Kawashima ShinEditor in chief of and professor in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo. Areas of expertise include Asian political and diplomatic history and modern Chinese diplomatic history. Born in Tokyo in 1968. Received his PhD in history from the University of Tokyo. Previously was an associate professor at Hokkaidō University. Was a member of the Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the 21st Century.

Hosoya Yuichi

Hosoya YuichiMember of the editorial committee and professor in the Faculty of Law, Keiō University. Areas of expertise include international history and British diplomatic history. Born in Chiba Prefecture in 1971. Studied international politics at Keiō University, and received PhD from the same University. Was a full-time lecturer at Hokkaidō University’s Faculty of Law and assistant professor at Keiō University’s Faculty of Law before becoming professor at Keiō. Was a presenter at the fourth session of the Advisory Panel on the History of the 20th Century and on Japan’s Role and the World Order in the 21st Century, speaking on the topic of “How did Japan pursue reconciliation with the United States, Australia, and European countries in the 70 years after the war?”

A Well-Balanced Statement

INTERVIEWER What were your immediate reactions to the seventieth anniversary statement issued by Prime Minister Abe Shinzō on August 14?

SHIRAISHI TAKASHI I think it was good for three reasons. First of all, it was well balanced. The prime minister is both a realist and a nationalist, but the last we’ve seen of his nationalistic stripes was his visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December 2013. The statement confirmed the fact that he’s set on pursuing a more pragmatic course.

Secondly, the fact that the statement came from a conservative politician like Mr. Abe and that it was approved by the cabinet will work to prevent future statements—if there’s going to be one, say, on the eightieth or ninetieth anniversary—from swinging any further to the right. It will set the tone of public opinion for the foreseeable future.

The third reason is that it offers a clear, consistent vision, when considered alongside the National Security Strategy issued in December 2013, of Japan’s security policy going forward. The statement looks back on the path modern Japan has taken in Asia and the world, noting that it took the “wrong course” in the 1930s and 1940s but that the nation has since rejected its wartime past and that it will never deviate from the pacifist path. This is the kind of strategic vision that Japan has been seeking to spell out for three decades—since the days of the Nakasone Yasuhiro administration—and I’m glad it’s finally done.

Looking Ahead

KAWASHIMA SHIN While most people focused on what the statement said about the war and the process that led up to it, I think it says a lot more about the seventy years of the postwar period and the kind of future the country should seek to build. The statement’s real significance lies in the fact that the prime minister provided historical context to the situation Japan finds itself in today, reaffirming the path it’s taken since its defeat and looking ahead to the course it should follow henceforth.

He emphasized Japan’s postwar pacifism and efforts toward reconciliation, noting that it now stands ready to make “proactive contributions to peace”—a reference, no doubt, to the security bills that are now being debated in the Diet.(*2) And he likely had the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership] in mind in making a pledge that Japan will uphold a “free, fair, and open international economic system.” My impression was that he sought to explain the security and trade policies the administration is advancing by placing them in historical context.

At the same time, the statement had several surprises. I had expected the prime minister to reiterate the references to historical issues that he’s been making over the past year in his various speeches, mixing them with the recommendations of our panel and passages from past anniversary statements issued by Prime Ministers Murayama Tomiichi and Koizumi Jun’ichirō. But there were a number of distinctive new phrases and ideas, such as his reference to the significance of the Russo-Japanese War and the expression of a desire that our children and grandchildren not be predestined to apologize.

As for the reaction of other countries, from my perspective as a China specialist, I don’t see the statement as eliciting a vehement protest from Beijing. In our panel’s report to the prime minister, we quoted Premier Wen Jiabao’s comments praising aspects of the Murayama and Koizumi statements. Those parts were embraced in the Abe statement as well, and I think they’ll continue to be upheld in the future. In that sense, the basic tone of the latest statement is in line with those made by earlier administrations.

(*1) ^ An ad hoc advisory commission created by Prime Minister Abe to issue recommendations for the seventieth anniversary statement. The panel met six times, beginning in February 2015, and presented the prime minister with a final report on August 6.

(*2) ^ The roundtable was held on September 9, before the bills were passed into law on September 19.

  • [2015.11.10]
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