LIVE BLOGGING of the Abe questioning

Japan’s new PM Shinzo Abe is in the Diet today answering questions fomr Diet members on his policies. You can watch the proceedings now here (in Japanese). Abe just said to the effect:

There was a question on the enshrinement of Class A War Criminals at Yasukuni Shrine. On the topic of Class A War Criminals, there are many opinions on each side so I don’t think it would be appropriate for the Japanese government to comment one way or the other on the matter.

Pardon my ignorance, but doesn’t the Japanese government generally respect the results of the Tokyo tribunals? I’m interested to see what the press has to say (if anything) on Abe’s comment. More likely, they will comment on what he said next, which is that he still refuses to comment on whether he himself plans to visit the shrine.

UPDATE: The video of the questioning is now available.

Here’s what he said:

There was a question on the responsibility as national leaders of the so-called “Class-A war criminals.” Regarding the responsibility for the last great war, there is a variety of opinions, so I feel that it may be inappropriate to make detailed, sweeping comments as a government [on this issue]. Whatever the case, our nation accepted the judgments of the Tokyo tribunals based on Article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, so I believe that in state to state relationships, the Government of Japan is in no position to raise any objections regarding this judgment.

His explanation is almost an exactly lifted from the foreign ministry’s explanation of the issue:

The Government of Japan acknowledges that there are various arguments regarding this judgment. However, Japan has accepted the judgment of the IMTFE under Article 11 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. Therefore, in state to state relationship, the Government of Japan believes that it is in no position to raise any objections regarding this judgment.

Isn’t that cheating? I thought this was a man with strong opinions!

One other interesting development during the questioning: Abe screwed up, if only a little bit. DPJ member Takaaki Matsumoto asked the PM whether Abe’s reference in his Friday inaugural policy speech to “research” what situations would allow for collective defense by Japan meant that the “quite detailed” constitutional interpretations by previous governments would be changed. In response, Abe repeated what he said last week: He will research into what kinds of circumstances would allow Japan to exercise collective defense, founded on previous constitutional interpretations and Diet debates, and “focusing on actual situations that could occur.” According to Abe, there is a need to look into this issue due to “increased expectations” of Japan so that the U.S. Japan alliance can “operate more efficiently.”

However, minutes later, Abe came back and “supplemented” his response by saying that at this stage he was simply stating a “summary of his views” on the matter and that he intends to “duly consider” the matter of collective defense. This essentially backtracks his earlier, more concrete statement that he would research the issue.

Matsumoto, an opposition lawmaker who has never held a cabinet post, then found himself in the unlikely position lecturing the youngest (and one of the least experienced) postwar prime minister on how to run his cabinet: “I think that there might be a need for you to reread your statements on the…collective defense issue at the cabinet and get them organized.”

Not sure why Abe tried to delete his previous remarks, but perhaps he is trying to avoid making headlines about his efforts to rewrite the constitution ahead of his Oct. 8 summit meeting with the Chinese premier.

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14 thoughts on “LIVE BLOGGING of the Abe questioning”

  1. Lower House:
    9/11 ended the free and open visitation policy of the Diet’s Lower House. Currently you need a member’s invitation to sit in on proceedings, whether in the plenary session or in committees. There are hundreds of them though, so if you ask enough of them nicely, one is sure to grant your request. The DPJ’s Manabu Terada seems pretty open to requests. (http://www.manabu.jp/visit/index.html)

    More info:
    http://www.shugiin.go.jp/itdb_annai.nsf/html/statics/tetuzuki/bouchou.htm

    Upper House:

    The upper house, perhaps because of its sheer uselessness, doesn’t have the same restrictions as its more exciting counterpart. Just know what you want to see and try to arrive early at the ticket counter.

    More info:
    http://www.sangiin.go.jp/japanese/frameset/mf_e01_01.htm

    The “sitting hours” for any session depend on when it happens. Today, for example, Abe’s Q&A session started at 1pm and you could have stayed for the entire 5-odd hours if you were so inclined.

    I took a tour of the Diet 2 Januaries ago on a day it wasn’t in session. All I needed to do was fill out a short form and walk through a metal detector (and make it in time for the once-daily tour) and I was in. It’s worth the visit, I think, to get a feel of what it’s like to be there and note the central role the emperor plays in the formal trappings of Japan’s government.

  2. Hm, don’t think so. But as long as you’ve got a decent Internet connection, you should be able to load them no problem. I recommend using the latest version of Realplayer because unlike Windows Media Player it lets you pause and wait for the video to load, similar to Youtube. That might not be useful for live feeds though…

    If you’re determined not to see Abe’s face, however, you could always just not look at the video!

  3. Thanks for the info above.

    I don’t think it should be surprising that Abe refuses to give clear opinions – no one can put his feet to the fire and he knows that full well.

    By saying the Japanese government is in no place to comment on the enshrinement of Class A war criminals, he’s trying to take the government out of the picture. The Shrine, after all, is not run by the government. Removing the Class A war criminals, thus, would not be a government decision. His message tells me, “Put the pressure on them, not us.”

  4. “By saying the Japanese government is in no place to comment on the enshrinement of Class A war criminals…”

    He hasn’t said anything about the “enshrinement” of war criminals in the bit that I’m watching. The “so I feel that it may be inappropriate to make detailed, sweeping comments as a government” comment was about the Tokyo trials. I actually agree with him to an extent. The Diet is really not an appropriate forum for judicial review of any kind, and in any case there was no suggestion that he rejected the ruling. Leave the legitimacy of the judgment to the legal historians (many of whom actually see the trials as something of a kangaroo court).

    On Yasukuni, he played Koizumi’s gambit: Yasukuni is a monument to the unfortunate war dead, It’s a personal choice whether he visits or not, yada yada yada.

  5. Now this is interesting.

    He’s trying to positively define the term “nationalism” (he uses the katakana English term) is terms that patently differ from the more negative English usage. I doubt they are going to pick up on it this time around, but hasn’t anyone told him that that might play badly in the overseas media?

  6. Bryce,

    Good point about the Japanese/overseas media. No doubt, politicians in Japan seem to speak as though a domestic audience will be the only one, and that what they say will be little deconstructed or criticized.

    I can’t say for sure whether or not they’re right about this, but I don’t see foreign media picking up on more than a few soundbites, let alone having the time/resources/needs to translate everything he says.

  7. You’re right about the amount of time that foreign media have to play with this, but if he keeps this ‘nationalim is great’ thing going, it will give them more stuff to nail his ass to the wall with if some controversial issue – such as yasukuni – pops up in future.

  8. Bryce,

    Many people won’t agree, but I think Yasukuni is done. China beat that horse for their own political advantage and I don’t think they have much left to ride. Japan played straight into their hands and China used it to thwart their bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC, but that took all the gas out of the issue.

    In the process, Japan let China burn off their best opposition issue, in opposition to something Japan knew would fail from the get go – due to the Russian veto.

  9. You’re right, a lot of people don’t agree with that. Sure, Japan has been decent at playing these games and using domestic sentiment as a weapon (Japan’s favorite negotiation crutch!), but China’s still in a position of losing face if it allows a PM visit with no consequences. Let’s see what the results of the upcoming summit are. Will Abe propose a talks framework? The US just started formal economic talks with China, so perhaps Japan will take a me-too approach. Either way, I predict Abe will try and broker a deal that will either a) Give a face-saving option for China to accept Yasukuni visits; or b) Put China in a position where theyd lose more from whatever they gain from talks/a framework; or (my prediction) c) blame China for a completely useless summit that accomplishes nothing. Let’s not play Abe’s game – he WILL visit the shrine. The unanswered question now is what political gains Abe will seek from such a visit.

    Has Japan given up on a UNSC seat? No, as Abe made clear in Diet testimony yesterday. That’s just one of many nitpicky issues that China and Japan are battling over, and the battle’s not over yet.

  10. The word is that Japan is shortly going to announce that they are officially endorsing a Korean to be head of the UN. I think relations may get better between the two countries as they realize the gains that come from helping each other. You want to lead the UN? Well I want to be a member of the UNSC, etc. Korea and Japan piss each other off alot, but they are both far more worried about China.

  11. It’s interesting that Abe is toning down his previous rhetoric significantly now that he’s actually representing the government. The statement seems to basically acknowledge previous government statements about war responsibility. More detail:

    Thursday, October 5, 2006

    Abe Acknowledges Responsibility Of Kishi, Other Wartime Leaders

    TOKYO (Kyodo)– Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday acknowledged the war responsibility of his grandfather, the late former Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, and Japan’s other wartime leaders ahead of his fence-mending talks with the leaders of China and South Korea.

    Abe, known for his conservative views on history, also committed himself to accept two official statements in the 1990s in which Tokyo apologized for Japanese colonial rule and aggression and the use of Asian women as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers before and during World War II.

    Abe, who took office on Sept. 26 as Japan’s youngest postwar premier, clarified his official stand on the country’s past militarism during a House of Representatives Budget Committee session Thursday.

    ”As a result of starting war, many Japanese lost their lives and families, and we left many scars on the people of Asia,” the 52-year-old Abe said.

    ”Particularly, those people in the position of leader at the time, including my grandfather, had great responsibility. Since politicians have to take responsibility for any outcomes, that decision certainly must have been wrong,” he said.

    Abe made the comment in response to a question by opposition Democratic Party of Japan heavyweight Naoto Kan about his view on Kishi’s signing of the rescript for starting the war in the Pacific in 1941 as a member of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.

    Kishi, Abe’s maternal grandfather who was then the commerce and industry minister, was detained as a Class-A war criminal suspect after the end of World War II but was released soon after Tojo and six others were hung in 1948. He served as Japan’s prime minister from 1957 to 1960.

    As for a landmark 1995 statement, in which then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama apologized and expressed remorse for Japan’s colonial rule and atrocities before and during World War II, Abe said, ”It is valid for my Cabinet.”

    When asked his personal view, Abe said it is ”natural” for him to accept the statement as prime minister, including its descriptions of the country’s colonial rule and aggression as ”has been presented…in a statement adopted by the Cabinet.”

    On a 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, in which the government officially acknowledged that the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly held Asian women in sexual servitude for its soldiers, Abe said, ”Including myself, the current government has taken it over.”

    When asked his view in Monday’s lower house plenary session, Abe refrained from admitting the responsibility of the wartime leaders charged as Class-A war criminals at the 1946-1948 International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Tribunal.

    Abe in 1995 abstained from approving a parliamentary resolution carrying a similar message to the Murayama statement. In 1997, he formed a group with fellow lawmakers with revisionist views on history, including the issue of sex slaves, and criticized Kono’s statement.

    But since taking office, Abe has vowed to strive to mend the strained ties with China and South Korea angered at former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which some regard as symbolic of Japan’s militarist past.

    He is slated to hold summit talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Sunday and with South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun on Monday.

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