Atrocity claim sharpens Japanese war guilt row

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The Independent Online


in Tokyo

Three days since government leaders agreed on a parliamentary motion expressing remorse for Japan's wartime aggression, it is increasingly unclear what the resolution is likely to resolve.

Reaction from Japan's Asian neighbours, at whom the document was principally aimed, has been muted at best. If anything it has underlined the many controversies that lie ahead in the run-up to the 50th anniversary of Japan's defeat on 15 August.

As Asian leaders debated the exact meaning of the resolution text, a Japanese magazine today published fresh evidence of wartime atrocities in China by soldiers of the Imperial Army. The article in Shukan Kinyobi (Friday Weekly) describes an incident in the village of Beitan in Hebei Province in 1942. According to survivors troops killed nearly 1,000 Chinese during a poison gas attack to flush out Communist insurgents.

The revelations will do nothing to pacify critics of the parliamentary resolution which was finally drafted on Tuesday night after drawn-out discussions between leaders of Japan's coalition. With support from all the major parties, passage of the motion is virtually assured.

Entitled "A Resolution to Renew Determination for Peace Based on the Lessons of History", the carefully-worded draft reflects the deep differences between the coalition members. The final version does contain two key phrases - "colonial rule" and "acts of aggression" - which the Liberal Democratic Party long resisted. And at LDP insistence, it expresses hansei, an ambiguous word suggesting something closer to "soul searching" or "personal remorse" than the unambiguous apology - shazai - for which Social Democratic Party leaders had been holding out.

But an SDP spokesman said: "By hansei, we include an implied notion of apology. We mean we have done wrong in the past and humbly bow our head to Asian countries."

Britain, the United States and Australia have welcomed the resolution, but the principal victims of Japanese wartime aggression expressed dissatisfaction. The South Korean ambassador to Tokyo called it "a step back" from the position of previous governments.