House lawmakers urge Japanese PM to ‘face history’ during US visit

262869083-Letter-to-Japanese-Ambassador-Kenichiro-Sasae

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is calling on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to “squarely face history” during his scheduled visit to the United States next week.

Abe on Tuesday sent a token plant to a Japanese war shrine in a ritual cheered by the country’s nationalists but condemned by neighboring nation’s like South Korea and China, which view the move as an aggressive denial of atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II.

In a letter sent Thursday to Kenichiro Sasae, Japan’s ambassador to the United States, the House lawmakers note that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, and are urging Abe to “lay the foundation for healing and humble reconciliation by addressing the historical issues.”

“[W]e fervently hope Prime Minister Abe will take advantage of this auspicious milestone during his visit to Washington to enhance Japan’s relationships with its neighbors through a vision of long overdue healing and reconciliation which will contribute to future-oriented cooperation,” the lawmakers wrote.

Spearheaded by Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), former head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the letter is endorsed by 24 other lawmakers, including Reps. Edward Royce (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), head of the Democrats’ messaging arm; Blake Farenthold (R-Texas); and Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Abe has long-been criticized for not going far enough in apologizing for Japan’s activities during the Second World War, particularly the use of “comfort women” from neighboring countries who were forced to service the Japanese troops.

This week’s gift, an evergreen plant, from Abe to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine has only furthered those criticisms. The shrine is a memorial to the Japanese troops who died in the war, but also includes military officers and political officials later found guilty of war crimes.

Attempting to make amends, Abe has signaled that he’ll visit the World War II memorial on the National Mall during next week’s visit to Washington. The House lawmakers, though, suggested they also want him to address the thorny historical issues during his speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday – a speech that comes amid a high-stakes congressional debate over trade deals with Japan and other Asian nations.

“We are at a critical juncture in America’s rebalance to Asia,” the lawmakers wrote, “and we firmly believe that enhanced cooperation between the United States, Japan, and Korea will serve as a linchpin of peace and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region and the broader global community.”

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