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Economy

Akihiko Tanaka: A historic moment in Japan-U.S. reconciliation

U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Hiroshima on May 27 was extremely symbolic in terms of the historic reconciliation between Japan and the U.S.

The two countries have made peace with each other to a considerable extent, though they were adversaries during World War II. But there are a variety of views in the U.S. on its atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Given this history, the visit was highly meaningful and testified to the maturation of relations between Japan and the U.S.

Obama has worked for nuclear non-proliferation since his speech in Prague in 2009 envisioning a world without nuclear weapons, and the visit was an important event for his legacy.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress in April 2015 and has since worked to realize Obama's visit to Hiroshima. It is fair to say that the visit was a testimony to the importance the U.S. places on its relationship with Japan, as well as a significant achievement in Japanese diplomacy.

The visit, had it been handled badly, could have caused unnecessary friction both at home and abroad. It was realized as a result of careful and positive coordination by people concerned, including U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida. It was also a successful example of an accumulation of working-level diplomatic efforts.

Japan and the U.S. have made peace through the postwar treatment of war-related issues. The history of the subsequent Japan-U.S. alliance suggests that the two countries have already left behind a relationship in which one apologizes to the other.

A U.S. president's visit to Hiroshima was meant to commemorate the victims of the atomic bombings and convey the message to the world that nuclear weapons must never be used again. 

There have been calls for a Japanese prime minister to visit Pearl Harbor. But it is inappropriate to treat Japanese and U.S. leaders' visits as a trade-off. From the viewpoint of showing the maturation of relations between Japan and the U.S., it would be no surprise for a Japanese prime minister to visit Pearl Harbor and commemorate all victims of the war. The visit should be realized in a natural way, as in the case of Obama's visit to Hiroshima.

Nations in the Asia-Pacific region may severely assess Japanese and U.S. leaders' visits because of their perception of history. But it would be highly meaningful for Japan and the U.S. to demonstrate to the region that the enemies in the 20th century can achieve a reconciliation to such an extent.

Obama's visit to Hiroshima also contributes to the peace and security of Asia as a whole because it showed the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance, which is the backbone of the region's stability.

The number of nuclear weapons has decreased since the Cold War era. But negotiations for the further reduction of nuclear weapons have been stalemated because of an increase in friction between the U.S. and Russia, both of which have overwhelmingly larger stockpiles than other nuclear powers.

Nuclear arms reduction talks are at a difficult stage. The cynical view could be that the elimination of nuclear weapons is impossible, but this should not be allowed to go too far because barriers to using them could weaken -- if this kind of thinking increases, so will the risk of nuclear war.

The vision of eliminating all nuclear weapons must not be permitted to fade. Obama's visit to Hiroshima was especially meaningful as it helps people to reaffirm the long-term goal of nuclear arms reduction.

Akihiko Tanaka is an expert on international relations and a professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia at the University of Tokyo.

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