In critical remarks against Japan’s current administration, former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said that “Japan cannot survive as a nation” should it deny its history of wartime aggression.
“The Murayama Statement is the Japan nation’s official historical perception and has become an international pledge, so it is impossible to review it,” Murayama said at a forum held yesterday by the Northeast Asian History Foundation in central Seoul.
Murayama is known for his shaggy white eyebrows and a resilience that doesn’t betray his 90 years. But he is most recognized internationally for his landmark statement made on Aug. 15, 1995, to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.
In this address, Murayama, who served as Japan’s prime minister from June 1994 to January 1996, expressed “heartfelt apology” that Japan “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries.”
“Any person who has become the prime minister of Japan has to uphold [the Murayama Statement], and any person who is not able to uphold it cannot stay in office,” he elaborated in a Korean-language translation of his full speech.
Regarding Japan’s military’s sexual enslavement of girls and women during World War II, Murayama said, “The leaders of each country need to sit down and speak frankly on what is the best method to resolve the issue.”
Murayama further told a panel of 28 current and former Korean and Japanese lawmakers, scholars and heads of civilian organizations: “I never thought that the Murayama Statement would become such a problem now.”
The 1995 Murayama Statement and the preceding 1993 Kono Statement are now considered fundamental pillars for bilateral ties. Both played important roles in advancing relations between the two countries. The Kono Statement, delivered by Yohei Kono, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary at the time, effectively apologized to the women forced to serve in Japanese military brothels during the war.
He added that when Abe first became prime minister in 2006, he claimed he would honor the Murayama Statement, though since he was elected for a second term in 2012, he has made remarks that appear to deny that.
In 2013, Abe said that there is no definitive answer either in academia or within the international community on what constitutes aggression and that he might not honor the entire statement. After much backlash, however, he finally conceded to uphold it.
During the gathering, the former prime minister also emphasized the importance of educating Japanese youth about the country’s history of wartime invasion and added that the recent controversies “may be a good opportunity” to promote such education.
“What is decisive is the people, so the people need to raise their voices on what is good or bad,” he said, regarding Japan’s history of invasion and concerns surrounding collective self-defense. “If the public’s voice becomes bigger, their votes can change the National Diet.”
“I don’t know how many years I have to live,” he added, “but I will pledge my remaining life on this.”
By Joong-ang Daily