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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech to the U.S. Congress

post date : 2015.05.20

Vol. 3 May 20, 2015

On April 29 (early April 30, Japan time), Prime Minister Shinzo Abe became the first Japanese prime minister to deliver a speech to a joint session of both chambers of the U.S. Congress. In his speech titled “Toward an Alliance of Hope” and delivered in English, Abe said that “Enemies that had fought each other so fiercely have become friends bonded in spirit,” underscoring the fact that the once belligerent nations have forged an alliance and deepened that relationship ever since.


With his historical perceptions attracting much attention leading up to his statement this summer on the 70th anniversary of the war, Abe mentioned “deep remorse,” and said: “Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that. I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard.” The prime minister, however, did not mention “aggression” or “apology” in his speech.


All five national dailies discussed Abe’s speech to the U.S. Congress in their editorials. (The Mainichi Shimbun, on April 30, and the four others, on May 1) The Yomiuri Shimbun. The Sankei Shimbun, and The Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei) generally welcomed the prime minister’s speech, although their endorsement differed in degree, with The Yomiuri saying he likely got through to the Americans with his forward-looking message.


In contrast, The Asahi Shimbun and The Mainichi were critical in one way or another. The Asahi said it was a “disappointment” that Abe did not address the issue of Okinawa, which hosts many U.S. bases, while The Mainichi warned that “…too much emphasis should not be placed on keeping a rising China in check as the two countries strengthen their alliance.”


Differing evaluations

The Yomiuri said Abe’s speech enjoyed a good response from the audience at the U.S. Congress as “The content of Abe’s speech, which was said to have moved Americans, and its well-considered word choices can be safely deemed to have been successful.”


The Sankei lavished praise on his address, saying “[The speech] will be credited as an epoch-making juncture, comparable to the redefinition in 1996 of the Japan-U.S. security alliance, which factored in the end of the Cold War.”


The Nikkei praised Abe’s speech, saying “There is no doubt that the speech marked an important milestone in the long history between Japan and the United States” and that his speech used methods that were standard in the USA. The paper also pointed out that “It is clear that both the Japanese and American governments prepared carefully for this event.”


The Asahi and The Mainichi commented on the clear intention to deter China and the lack of mention of Okinawa, as well as strongly criticizing the prime minister’s promise to “achieve” security legislation reform by this summer. The Mainichi said this “cannot be overlooked,” and The Asahi said “Shouldn’t our leader have shared with the U.S. people his gratitude to and sympathy with the people of Okinawa before making these pledges?”


Reference to the past

The five dailies had differing opinions on historical perceptions, considering the upcoming statement on the 70th anniversary of the war.


The Yomiuri said, “Apparently because [April 29’s] speech was delivered to the U.S. Congress, whose main issue of concern was the bilateral Japan-U.S. relationship, the prime minister did not refer to ‘aggression’ or ‘apology.’”


But when the statement is issued, “the prime minister’s own views of history will certainly come under scrutiny,” The Yomiuri said, then questioning the advisability of maintaining “his stance to the effect that the definition of what can be considered aggression ‘has yet to be fully clarified.’”


“In this respect, the prime minister is urged to be fully aware of critical observers both at home and abroad, and to respond in a rational, strategic manner,” The Yomiuri said.


The Mainichi gave their analysis that the historical perceptions expressed in the speech were “in response to concerns that the prime minister was issuing a challenge to the U.S.-led postwar world order.” The daily added, “the fact that the statement [on the 70th anniversary] has drawn particular attention both in Japan and overseas means that it should be drafted so that the prime minister can express clear and sensible historical views.”


Regarding Abe’s choice to indirectly refer to “aggression” by saying “Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries,” using a similar method to what he did at the Asian-African Conference held in April, The Nikkei said “there are pros and cons about such an indirect speech.” For the statement, Abe should “further search for expressions in line with Japanese feelings as well as congruous to the feelings of Asians,” the economic daily said.


The Asahi said Abe’s remarks at Congress responded “only to the minimum extent necessary” to the U.S. expectations that he would “tackle issues related to Japan’s wartime history in a way that was consistent with past Japanese statements concerning these issues.”


“Abe’s address to the U.S. Congress was marked by rhetorical phrases to avoid provoking criticism about his history perceptions,” The Asahi said. “This tactic will not work for the statement Abe plans to issue to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the war. We hope to see Abe make a wise decision over this matter.”


In contrast, The Sankei defended Abe over the fact that he did not make an apology about the war, an absence which drew criticism from China, South Korea and some quarters of the United States. “The prime minister referred to ‘reconciliation’ with the United States and expressed ‘repentance,’” the paper said. “He also said ‘Post war, we started out on our path bearing in mind feelings of deep remorse over the war’ and ‘Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that.’”


“What more words does he need to say in addition to these remarks?” The Sankei said. “The statement to be issued in August must be thoroughly future-oriented, presenting a more detailed blueprint for Japan’s future.”


*English translations of The Yomiuri, The Asahi, and The Mainichi are from The Japan News, The Asia & Japan Watch and The Mainichi, respectively. Those for The Sankei and The Nikkei are provisional. The content of this page was made by the Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.

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