Military issues past, present engulf Abe
Updated: 2015-04-30 13:39
By CAI CHUNYING in Washington(China Daily USA)
When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stepped into the well of the US Capitol on Wednesday, reminders of his country's World War II-era military aggression were right outside. Abe instead chose to focus on future military matters - an enhanced alliance with the United States.
More than 500 protesters outside the Capitol demanded Abe apologize for the Japanese Imperial Army's atrocities and for the "comfort women" forced into providing sexual favors for the soldiers.
Abe, the first Japanese prime minister to address a joint session of Congress, once again disappointed the protesters.
"We now have a framework," Abe said, speaking in English, "a framework to better put together the forces of the US and Japan."
Abe referred to upgraded defense guidelines that the US and Japan announced on Monday, which Obama and Abe also mentioned during their Tuesday press conference.
In his speech titled Toward an Alliance of Hope, Abe gave the new framework its official name: "Defense Cooperation Guidelines".
Under these guidelines, revised for the first time since 1997, Japan will have the right to exercise collective self-defense - being allowed to defend not just its own territory, but also the United States and other countries if necessary.
To go with the new framework, Abe said he was working to change his country's anti-war constitution, imposed during the American postwar occupation, which would allow Japan's military to perform beyond self defense.
"This reform is the first of its kind, and a sweeping one in our postwar history," said Abe, adding that the changes will be achieved by this summer.
Abe said Japan will be able to provide "a seamless response for all levels of crisis", therefore providing "credible deterrence" when peace in the region is threatened.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Tuesday: "Both the US and Japan have a duty to ensure that their alliance does not infringe the interests of third parties, including China, or the peace and stability of the Asia-Pacific region."
Hong said that "neither the US or Japan is a stakeholder in the South China Sea issue."
Quansheng Zhao, professor of International Service and chair of the Asian Studies Research Council at American University, said: "Japan used to only be involved in economic affairs in the Asia Pacific region. But now it'll be different, Japan will get more and more involved in the military affairs. It is like putting the tiger out to the mountains."
Throughout the speech, Abe treated Japan's World War II enemy the US as a godfather of sorts by praising its help to his country. The line of thinking was that Japan, helped by that protection after the war, was subsequently able to help other Asian countries rise, including China.
"In this way, prosperity was fostered first by the US, and second by Japan," Abe said.
Abe drew a picture of order for Asia in which the US-Japan alliance takes center stage. After mentioning Australia, India, the countries of ASEAN and South Korea, the nations he has actively reached out to since late 2012, Abe said, "Adding those partners to the central pillar that is the US-Japan alliance, our region will get stable remarkably more."
Abe made an oblique reference to the disputed Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea, to which he referred to as "the state of Asian water".
"We must make the vast seas stretching from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean seas of peace and freedom, where all follow the rule of law," Abe said. "For that very reason, we must fortify the US-Japan alliance. That is our responsibility."
Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said Washington expects Tokyo to fight for US security interests worldwide, and its de facto support for Japan's territorial claim and its "troublemaking" over the South China Sea issue will only render Japan "fearless".
Abe also tied the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact to security, which he and Obama have beenboosting during the visit. "The TPP goes far beyond just economic benefits. It is also about our security," said Abe. "We should never forget that."
Abe borrowed classic rhetorical lines familiar to American ears, including Obama's famous "hope and change" line, receiving standing ovations from members of Congress.
Only a short paragraphin the speech was devoted to Japan's wartime past, without apology and mention of "comfort women".
"He should have taken this opportunity to offer the world a sincere apology. He just blew it," Mike Honda, a US congressman from California, said during a press conference afterward.
Honda, along with Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, led 23 members of Congress in sending a letter to the Japanese ambassador to the US urging Abe to apologize.
"He wraps himself cozily with the word hope," said Honda, a third-generation Japanese American. "If a leader of country cannot recognize its own past, then I am not sure how much hope he can have in having a successful or at least complete future."
Douglas H. Paal，vice-president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Abe used the active voice to express "repentance" in his speech for the first time. "Normally he uses the passive voice, lending some distance from taking full responsibility for the war. I consider this a positive step forward, even though overall Japan's expressions are judged insufficient by many," he said.
"The new defense guidelines, if enacted into Japanese law, will reduce the imbalanced responsibilities in the US-Japan mutual security treaty, so that Japan can become a bigger, though still rather small, contributor to global security."