Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should follow his predecessors in his upcoming statement about World War II. Any departure will be read as a signal of major alteration in Japan's foreign policy.
Previous prime ministers of Japan have officially acknowledged one thing: Japan should apologize for the atrocities it inflicted upon millions of people during its colonial rule and aggression.
"I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology," former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said in a statement in 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi also made a similar statement 10 years later, reiterating the keywords such as "colonial rule," "aggression" and "apology."
Such statements, in fact, laid the foundation for Japan's relations with its neighboring countries.
But the incumbent prime minister has been quite elusive about whether he should follow his predecessors in his statement scheduled for Friday.
Conflicting news about Abe's statement smell of a scheme by Abe's government to test the waters both at home and abroad, which suggests that it is reluctant to face up to Japan's wartime past.
"The Murayama Statement is the 'gold standard' but we know that Abe, in his heart of hearts, doesn't want to say what the Murayama Statement said," Reuters quoted Andrew Horvat, visiting professor at Josai International University in Tokyo, as saying.
If Abe should decide not to follow the previous statements and avoid using "apology" in the statement, then it would be major throwback to the country's military past.
Abe's conservative supporters see the apologies as humiliating for Japan and complained they are suffering from "apology fatigue."
Avoiding apologies means denying the "irrefutable facts of history" and the lack of respect for the innocent lives lost or abused during Japan's aggression before and in World War II.
Such a statement from Abe will not only impair the Japanese government's moral grounds, but also bring damage to the credibility of the government due to its capricious standings on the country's history.
Abe has implied that his upcoming statement will be future-oriented and tried to point out that Japan has become a country completely different from what it was in the first half of the 20th century.
But without facing history squarely, the kind of future Abe will "renew" is actually very worrying.
Since he took office for the second time in 2012, Abe has been forcing controversial security bills through parliament despite mounting public opposition.
Neighboring countries have already grown concerned over the recent moves of the Japanese government and the resurgence of ultra-rightists in the country.
And this worry will certainly be exacerbated if Abe refuses to apologize for Japan's war crimes in Friday's statement.
To really facilitate peace and stability in the region and prevent tragedies like WWII from happening again, Abe should follow his predecessors and send a clear and correct message on Japan's past.
(Xinhua News Agency August 13, 2015)