WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offered condolences Wednesday for Americans killed in World War II in the first address by a Japanese leader to a joint meeting of Congress, but stopped short of apologizing for wartime atrocities.
Abe came to Capitol Hill after a morning visit to a Washington memorial to more than 400,000 American service members who died in the conflict. His remarks to a packed chamber a day after meeting President Barack Obama were warmly received by lawmakers.
“My dear friends, on behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II,” he said, prompting his audience to rise in applause.
But he skirted another issue that some U.S. lawmakers had also been urging him to address in what is the 70th anniversary year of the end of war — the sexual slavery of tens of thousands of Asian women by Japan’s military, which remains a sore point with another staunch U.S. ally, South Korea. One of the few dozen surviving Korean victims, Yong Soo-lee, 87, was in the gallery to watch Abe’s address, seated in a wheelchair.
Instead, the Japanese prime minister expressed “feelings of deep remorse over the war.” He acknowledged that “our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries, we must not avert our eyes from that.” That won’t satisfy his critics, who want Abe to do more than “uphold” the apologies for wartime abuses made by his predecessors.
Democratic Rep. Mike Honda, who invited Yong to attend, said it was “shocking and shameful” that Abe was evading his government’s responsibility over atrocities committed by the Imperial Army against so-called “comfort” women.
Since winning election in December 2012, Abe has been a strong advocate of closer ties with the U.S., a message he hammered home Wednesday. He vowed to enact legislation by this summer to facilitate closer cooperation with the U.S. military.
Abe said the U.S. and Japan “must take the lead” in completing a 12-nation trans-Pacific trade pact. That got a lukewarm response from Democrats but warm applause from Republicans — reflecting the division in Congress on the issue.