Contrary opinions about Japan's historical interpretation of its wartime actions are brewing within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and it may not be easy to resolve because Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the primary instigator of the controversy.
Abe stirred major criticism from South Korea and China with his repeated comments about the lack of an academic definition of "wartime aggression."
Adding fuel to the fire was Sanae Takaichi, the LDP policy chief, who said on May 12, "I am not totally convinced by the inclusion of the term 'aggression' " in the 1995 statement issued in the name of Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama that expressed remorse and an apology to Asian nations that suffered due to Japan's colonial rule and aggression.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga tried to put out the fire by saying at a May 13 news conference, "I believe that represents the personal view of Takaichi. The government position is as I have stated."
Suga had said on May 10, "Like Cabinets before us, this administration also carries forth and supports the entire Murayama statement."
On May 13, Suga called Takaichi, who was on a business trip to Oita city, and explained the government position and asked for restraint.
However, after giving a speech in Oita, Takaichi said to reporters about the Murayama statement, "My personal view has not changed."
During a Diet debate in 1995 over the wording of the statement, Takaichi had said, "Because I am not part of the generation that was involved (in the war), I do not hold feelings of apology."
The statement was issued on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of Japan's involvement in World War II.
Takaichi has made it clear that her political ideology is close to Abe's. That has led one high-ranking LDP executive to say, "She likely feels that one way to support Abe is by saying things that he has to refrain from making because of his position."
On May 13, Banri Kaieda, the head of opposition Democratic Party of Japan, criticized Takaichi's comment.
"Because it is a fact that Japan caused major damage to Asian nations during the last war, every effort must be made to face that squarely and seek out friendly ties through a future-oriented stance," Kaieda said.
Criticism also emerged from within the LDP.
At a May 13 meeting of LDP executives, Masahiko Komura, the party vice president, said, "Careful attention should be paid to historical recognition issues to prevent misunderstandings from arising."
At a news conference immediately after that meeting, LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba said, "Comments should not be made off the top of one's head on issues that involve historical accumulation."
Another party executive said, "Takaichi is misguided."
Another added, "Speaking freely based only on one's thoughts will cause trouble."
However, it will not likely be easy to resolve the controversy because it was Abe who set off the entire process to begin with.
At a May 13 session of the Upper House Budget Committee, Kyoko Nakayama, a member of the Japan Restoration Party, touched upon a recent report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service that raised concerns about Abe's comments hurting U.S. interests because of his revisionist historical views that deny Japanese wartime aggression.
"That does not represent the official position of the U.S. Congress," Abe had said. "We must make every effort to actively transmit information so that our views are properly understood (by a foreign audience)."
However, he stopped short of going into detail about how that proper understanding would be achieved.
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