On August 15, 1995, the then Japanese Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, released a landmark document known as the Murayama Statement to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II (WWII). Twenty years later, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to release his statement marking the end of the war on August 15. Will Abe's statement inherit the spirit of the Murayama Statement? This and other questions will be of great import for all nations, particularly China and South Korea.
Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama delivers a speech outside the National Diet in Tokyo on July 23 to protest against a series of controversial security billsaimingto reinforce the Japanese army's capacity and overturn the nation's "purely defensive" military capabilities (XINHUA)
In a recent exclusive interview with People's China, a Beijing-based Japanese-language magazine, Murayama talked about the ins and outs of the Murayama Statement. He also stated that to safeguard the hard-won pacifism of post-WWII Japan, his country should hold fast to its pacifist constitution. An excerpt of the interview follows:
People's China: One can imagine that when you decided to release the statement, you must have met with opposition. Can you tell us a little about the process of drafting the statement?
Tomiichi Murayama: No matter whether from the perspective of history or culture, Japan is part of Asia. I believe that it is nonviable for Japan to be isolated from the rest of the continent. In particular, Japan, China and South Korea are neighbors separated only by a narrow strip of water and have a long history of mutual exchange. This history of exchange has played a decisive role in the development of the Japanese culture. Therefore, my greatest hope is to build a kind of relations that could gain the trust of Asian countries, in particular, South Korea and China.
When I assumed the post of Japanese prime minister in 1994, I visited almost all Asian countries. At that time, Japan had already become a world-class economic power, and the country's success in this regard had been recognized worldwide. However, I could feel that Asian people still had an aversion to Japan: they believed that "Japan had not reflected on its war crimes sincerely" and worried that "Japan might again become so powerful militarily and lead itself once more down a dangerous road." Thus, when forming a coalition government, the Liberal Democratic Party, Socialist Party and the New Party Sakigake jointly submitted a draft resolution called The Resolution to Renew the Determination for Peace on the Basis of Lessons Learned from History to the Japanese Diet to show Japan's determination to come to terms with its modern history. The draft resolution was amended several times before the vote. In spite of objections from many house representatives, the resolution had eventually been passed. But it wasn't discussed in the upper house. I didn't want to give up on it. To make clear the stance of the government, I decided to make an official statement reflecting on the past war crimes of my country in my capacity as prime minister. At that time, I already prepared to have my cabinet resign if the statement could not be approved.
After the statement was released, how did Japanese society respond to it? And what were the responses like from Japan's Asian neighbors?
There were yeas and nays within Japan. I was fiercely criticized domestically, but China and South Korea accorded high praise to it and said the statement had cleared up historical problems. Afterward, every time I visited China, the statement would be mentioned in the welcome speeches delivered by the Chinese side. China also regarded the release of the statement as a positive development in China-Japan relations. What's more, all Japanese cabinets since then have promised to follow the statement to the letter.
But domestically, I faced strong criticism. Some claimed that there was no need to repeat apologies since we had already done so.
Some even blatantly denied the validity of such apologies. They believed that Japan's aggression and colonial rule over neighboring countries was merely the same as what European troops had done to Asian countries. They even argued that the war was in fact a kind of defense against European aggression.
I don't believe that our apologies were contrition for the sake of contrition. The most important thing is that we should face up to the historical truth, reflect upon the mistakes we have made and show our determination that we will never allow Japan slip back onto the same disastrous path of old. Only then can Japan have a bright future. This also constitutes the core spirit of the statement.
Indeed, there is a tendency to disregard the Murayama Statement and to make attempts to revise the pacifist constitution within Japan. Where do you think this tendency will lead Japan?
Based on its miserable wartime experience, Japan formed its pacifist constitution. Over the past 70 years, Japan has never directly participated nor been remotely involved in war of any description. That's partly why we have enjoyed a period of blossoming peace and prosperity. All Asian countries including China and South Korea have spoken highly of Japan's peaceful stance. And most Japanese people support the pacifist constitution and worry about the rightward shift in Japanese politics. Thus, I don't believe that the Japanese people will approve of constitutional revision, because Japan is a democratic country and its government is founded on popular sovereignty. Recent surveys show that the voice of the Japanese people opposing the Abe administration's move to revise the constitution is becoming ever louder.
Not long ago, in a public discussion with former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo, you appealed to the incumbent Japanese Government to withdraw the new security bills. Why?
Most Japanese scholars of constitutional law have already pointed out that the new security bills under deliberation in the Japanese Diet are unconstitutional. If the Japanese parliament submits, or even discusses a bill of this nature, it means that the parliament itself is illegal. Moreover, even Abe himself admits that most people probably didn't fully understand the bills. But he nonetheless forced a vote on the bills relying on the advantage of his party's majority within the parliament. This is untoward behavior that should never be condoned. Safeguarding the pacifist constitution and opposing war are the will of the Japanese people. The parliament should pay heed to this and repeal the new security bills.
What's your view on the current situation in Japan and around the world?
The Japanese Government, in full-on crisis mode, has become increasingly vigilant concerning China's claim on territories such as the Nansha Islands. Actually, the current Japanese Government is trying to stoke an atmosphere of unjustified panic, which has given many the impression that Southeast Asian countries are sinking into the most severe crisis the world has ever experienced.
If there does indeed exist a kind of crisis, I think diplomatic efforts should be the first resort to counter it. The avoidance of the pursuit of hegemony is basic principle underlying China's diplomacy. China's prosperity and status as a rising economic power have both benefited from a peaceful surrounding environment. I truly believe that China does not want war. Dialogue is an effective way to resolve crises, while the arms race taking place at present has the potential to sow the seeds for future conflict.
I also don't think the United States wants China and Japan to go to war. Instead, Washington might prefer Japan to play the role of a military buffer zone between China and the United States. In terms of the security treaty between Tokyo and Washington, the United States probably expects Japan to provide more military assistance.
What's your take on China-Japan relations in the new world order? What kind of relationship should China and Japan establish and develop?
In his speech at the Japanese parliament in 2008, the then Chinese President Hu Jintao said that by way of acknowledging the Murayama Statement by both sides to solve historical issues arising from WWII, China and Japan would enter a new period of strategic relations benefiting both parties. Therefore, it is of vital importance for both sides to keep their promises in order to create a peaceful environment. Considering the level of economic interdependence between China and Japan, a good environment for bilateral relations is particularly necessary.
At the first national memorial day for the Nanjing Massacre last December, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "The reason we are having a memorial for the Nanjing Massacre victims is to recall that all good-hearted people yearn for and hold fast to peace, and not to prolong hatred." When recently addressing a 3,000-strong delegation of Japanese people led by Toshihiro Nikai, Chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's general council, President Xi said, "The future of China-Japan relations are in the hands of the people of the two countries." How do you interpret this?
President Xi's speeches are very apposite. I think we must make efforts to build an atmosphere of cooperation and reciprocity, which will not only benefit the two countries but also Asia and the world at large. Certainly, there will always be frictions now and then between our two countries. But what is important is that both sides should make efforts to defuse tensions through dialogue, and take China-Japan relations in a more favorable direction.
Now, upon this historic occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war's end, we should bear in mind that we must look into the past to learn from the lessons of history, and ensure that we do not stray from the path to the peace and prosperity of human society in the future.
Excerpt of the Murayama Statement
During a certain period in the not-too-distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, 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. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history.
Copyedited by Eric Daly