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2015: A Year for National Minimum ConsensusKuni Miyake's Tenor of Tokyo #72

January 01, 2015  Kuni Miyake

A Happy New Year to all the readers both in Japan and overseas! May 2015 be a special one for you instead of just being a chronological change of date and time. This year is most likely a crucial moment for both Abenomics and Japan's foreign policy, whether we like it or not. The real question here is whether the silent majority of Japanese are prepared for this critical juncture.

2015 is not only the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, but also the 50th anniversary of the Japan-Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty. Last year, after 69 years, China abruptly designated September 3 as a day to officially commemorate victory over Japan in its Patriotic War. The Chinese President reportedly criticized "Japan's failure to accept responsibility for history."

The silent majority of Japanese was puzzled again. "Here they go again. Yes, it's true and we have accepted that Japan made a mistake and caused damage to Asian nations. In the spirit of humanity, we have been repeatedly apologizing for colonial rule and aggression. Aren't the Chinese unfair by moving the goalposts again and again?"

At the beginning of 2015, allow me to remind readers once again of the famous, but sometimes not fully read, statement by Prime Minister Murayama from 1995. In particular, I would like you to consider the following two paragraphs. Please read them objectively and without prejudice because these words seem to reflect the true voices of the silent majority of Japanese since 1945:

"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."

The silent majority of Japanese are also mesmerized by the anti-Japanese campaign of South Koreans. With the 1965 international (i.e. legally binding) agreement with the Republic of Korea, "problems in regard to property and claims between Japan and Korea", clearly including those pertaining to individuals, were interpreted as being "settled completely and finally."

In fact, Tokyo proposed to Seoul in the early 1960s that Japan could directly compensate individual victims. However, the South Korean government insisted it would handle individual compensation to its citizens. Finally, the Republic of Korea received 800 million US dollars' worth of grants and soft loans from Japan as a result of the 1965 Basic Relations Treaty. (This equates to 5.9 billion US dollars at today's rates when tracked against CPI.)

This column is not seeking to revise history. The overwhelming majority of Japanese have admitted historical facts and accepted the Murayama Statement. They are not interested in denying or revising the past. The silent majority of Japanese are just concerned about China and Korea's unfair treatment of present-day Japan through endless moving of the goalposts.

Having said that, criticizing the unfair neighbors is not enough. What is truly required is the creation of national minimum consensus among Japanese about how to deal with our not-so-friendly neighbors in North East Asia, and how we should explain our 70 years' worth of sincere and endless efforts to be a born-again peace-loving nation.

Under democracy speech is free and in fact there are various perspectives in Japan about history. The issue here is not one school of thought dominating others or vice versa. The real question is whether or not the silent majority of Japanese can reach a national minimum consensus, excluding radical views of both the right and left wings, so that malicious neighbors cannot take advantage of the gap between the extremists and the silent majority of Japanese.

2015 is a golden opportunity for Japan to explore such a consensus. This requires, however, tremendous efforts and courage on the part of the centrist silent majority of Japanese and their parliamentary representatives. Such efforts also require international solidarity. To say the least, the unfair rhetoric of Beijing and Seoul that demonizes Japanese people has never been helpful.

The author spent over 25 years working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including as Minister at the Embassy of Japan in China and Iraq. When he retired in 2005, he was Deputy Director-General of the Middle East Bureau. Since then, he has taken on the roles of president of the Foreign Policy Institute, Visiting Professor at Ritsumeikan University and Research Director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies.

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