LONDON – Over the past year, relations among East Asia’s three most successful economies – Japan, South Korea, and China – have been slowly but steadily improving. This is notable, because their ties with one another have never been easy or smooth. The history of the twentieth century and their longer-term rivalries have seen to that.
This August, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gives a major speech to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, he has a chance either to accelerate the rapprochement or bring it to a halt. Given his rightist pedigree and revisionist views about Japan’s wartime history, the region is bracing itself for a new bout of diplomatic turbulence surrounding his address.
Abe should remember that it is within his power to bring about a different outcome. And, though not delivering a speech at all might have been the most prudent course, he can still use the occasion to reinforce an image of his country as a positive force in Asia. He should take pains to present Japan as a strong country that looks forward rather than backward, and that wants to contribute to economic development, peace, and security around the world – and especially within Asia.
During the 1960s and 1970s, after Japan’s economy had recovered, the country dealt with its wartime history in large part by becoming a generous donor of overseas aid throughout Asia, including China. Abe should place this type of generosity of spirit and action at the center of his speech.