TOKYO -- Having delivered a statement on wartime history that drew months of attention, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe now picks up his diplomatic agenda in Asia where he left off -- seeking connections with the leaders of China and South Korea.
Abe is weighing a visit to China early next month. He has sat down for one-on-one talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping before, but Japan and South Korea have not held a bilateral summit in more than three years. It remains to be seen whether his statement leads to improved Japanese relations with either country.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida telephoned his Australian, French, South Korean and British counterparts Friday night to explain that Japan seeks to make even greater contributions to peace and stability in the international community -- something Abe mentioned in his statement marking 70 years since the end of World War II. Kishida spoke only with ministers whose schedules allowed for conversations at the time, he told reporters afterward.
Akitaka Saiki, the foreign ministry's top career official, met separately with the American, Chinese and South Korean ambassadors to Japan right after the cabinet approved Abe's statement by a resolution. He wanted to show them the text as soon as possible. Chinese Ambassador Cheng Yonghua said he would forward the statement to Beijing after reading it.
Chinese and South Korean reactions to the statement differed.
"On the whole, the content showed more progress than had been expected," but some parts were "ambiguous," such as the reference to past statements by way of an apology, said Yang Bojiang, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As for Abe's contention that Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese War "gave encouragement to many people under colonial rule from Asia to Africa," Yang said the view is different "from the standpoint of a former colony."
A spokesperson for South Korea's ruling Saenuri Party called Abe's reference to past Japanese government statements of remorse and apology "meaningful." In describing his heart as "rent with the utmost grief" to think of the suffering that Japan inflicted on innocent people, Abe gave a glimpse into his "complex" feelings toward the past, the spokesperson said. While dissatisfied with his way of expressing remorse and apology and his indirect reference to the issue of wartime "comfort women," the spokesperson said rather than dwelling on Abe's vagueness, Saenuri will continue to call on Japan to practice what it preaches.
South Korean media reported on Abe's statement in a negative light. The Chosun Ilbo daily criticized him for not apologizing directly for Japanese aggression and colonial rule. Yonhap News called the statement a major step backward from those made by two of his predecessors, Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi.
Open to dialogue with China
Abe said he would take advantage of opportunities to meet with Xi.
"Japan's door for dialogue is always open," he said at the news conference where he read the statement. "Japan and China share a great responsibility for regional peace and prosperity."
Later, in an appearance on public broadcaster NHK, Abe left open the possibility of attending China's celebration of the 70th anniversary of victory against Imperial Japan on Sept. 3.
"I haven't decided," he said. "It depends on whether it will be a conciliatory event, not an anti-Japanese one."