Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a historic visit to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the site of a notorious attack on a US Naval base, which drew America into the Second World War.
Standing next to President Obama, Mr Abe offered his “sincere and everlasting condolences” to the victims.
“We must never repeat the horrors of war again, this is the solemn vow the people of Japan have taken,” he said.
The media have been analyzing Mr Abe’s motivation and contemplating the significance of the visit at the very end of President Obama’s time in office.
The role of explaining the Japanese government to the foreign press often falls to Tomohiko Tanaguchi, a special advisor to the Japanese cabinet. In fact, it was Mr Tanaguchi who read the English translation of Mr Abe’s speech at Pearl Harbor on international television. This important role suggests that Mr Tanaguchi took a hand in writing the speech and was determined to ensure it would resonate with an English-speaking audience.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Tanaguchi explained that the prime minister had been contemplating the visit to Pearl Harbor since he addressed politicians in Washington in 2015. During that speech, Mr Abe stressed the theme of reconciliation between Japan and the United States and that was reinforced by the visit of President Barack Obama to Hiroshima in the summer of 2016.
Mr Tanguchi said that Mr Abe regards the alliance with the United States as “an alliance of hope.”
Donald Trump may see it differently. He has called into question many of America’s existing security deals, including its arrangements with NATO and with Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump ’s election in November triggered a wave of anxiety after he characterized Japan as a trade adversary which unfairly benefits from U.S. military protection.
The WSJ notes that the US is bound by a bilateral treaty to defend Japan from attack and is also Japan’s second-largest trading partner after China.
The chairman of the Japan Society and former British Ambassador to Japan Sir David Warren said that the Japanese would be deeply worried if the US weakens its commitment.
He stressed that East Asia is a volatile part of the world because of the threat posed by North Korea and he noted the strained diplomatic relationship between Japan and China.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese reaction to Mr Abe’s Pearl Harbor visit was very cool. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said: “To completely make a clean break by simply visiting Pearl Harbor is just wishful thinking. Don’t forget that China is the main battlefield of World War II.”
The Japan Times praised Mr Abe’s Pearl Harbor visit but said there is unfinished business for Japan with its former wartime enemies in Asia, in particular China and South Korea.
It also stressed that reconciliation must be part of a mutual process and cannot be achieved by one side acting alone.