C3S Article no: 0154/2016
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor on December 27 2016 is loaded with significance.
First and foremost, it is important because this is the first time a Japanese prime minister will participate in a public ceremony at the US naval base in Hawaii that Japanese forces struck on December 7, 1941. The first prime minister to visit the memorial was reportedly Shigeru Yoshida, when he stopped in Hawaii in 1951. But there was no public ceremony and it did not generate the kind of buzz created by Abe’s visit.
Secondly, Abe, whose approval ratings are low, is looking to do the one thing that can raise his political stock at home and boost his profile on the world stage. He failed to achieve this during talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the territorial dispute over a clutch of islands that the Soviet Union seized in the last days of World War Two and that are claimed by Japan. As the first world leader to call on new President-elect Donald Trump in November, Abe had also hoped to draw out what US ambitions in the Pacific would be and how Japan fit into those plans. But he also drew a blank there and returned home with little to show for the hopes he had raised about the meeting.
Abe has been ambiguous about the purpose of his visit to Hawaii ever since he announced it on December 5. No official reasons have been given, except to state that he is going to Pearl Harbor to “reciprocate” US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Hiroshima in May. Obama commemorated the victims and embraced survivors during that visit, but did not apologize for the US dropping the atomic bomb in 1945. Similarly, Abe will not apologize for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor that killed 2,400 Americans.
When he announced his visit, Abe said: “We must never repeat the horror of war. I want to express that determination as we look to the future, and at the same time send a message about the value of US-Japanese reconciliation.”
That may be true, but it does not seem like the whole truth. For if it is about Japan seeking reconciliation, then why only with the US? Why not with China and Korea, which were no less victims of Japanese militarism? Why does Abe – who has paid homage to war criminals buried at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo – not also travel to the Chinese city of Nanjing, site of a gruesome massacre by Japanese forces in 1937?
These questions suggest Abe’s visit is not about taking position against war or militarism. It is not about memory or forgetting. It is not even about reconciliation. It is about finding ways to strengthen US-Japan ties, including on military-strategic objectives in the Pacific.
Since his meeting with Trump failed to achieve its desired impact, this is likely another diplomatic means for Abe to stay visibly engaged with the US.
(The article reflects the author’s opinion, not necessarily views of CCTVNEWS. The author is an independent journalist and global affairs commentator based in New Delhi. He has worked as Senior Editor & Writer with China Daily and Global Times, and was previously Senior Consultant & Editor of China-India Dialogue.)