Friday, May 10, 2013

He Says All The Right Things

Martin Fackler has delivered:
Japan Says It Will Abide by Apologies Over Actions in World War II
The New York Times

TOKYO — Japan's conservative government will abide by official apologies that the country's leaders made two decades ago to the victims of World War II in Asia, top officials said Tuesday, backing away from earlier suggestions that the government might try to revise or even repudiate the apologies.

Japan formally apologized in 1993 to the women who were forced into wartime brothels for Japanese soldiers, and in 1995 to nations that suffered from Japanese aggression during the war. Both apologies rankled Japanese ultranationalists, and there were concerns that the hawkish current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, would try to appeal to them by whitewashing Japan's wartime atrocities, a step that would probably infuriate Japan’s neighbors.

The United States shared those concerns, and it urged the Abe government to show restraint on historical issues so that Japan would not further isolate itself diplomatically in the region.

The concerns intensified last month when members of Mr. Abe's cabinet visited a Tokyo shrine that honors Japanese war dead, including some who were executed for war crimes, drawing angry reactions from China and South Korea. Those nations also responded strongly a few days later when Mr. Abe seemed to question in Parliament whether Japan was actually the aggressor during the war, saying that the definition of "invasion" was relative and suggesting that his cabinet might not stand by the 1995 apology in its entirety.

On Tuesday, the Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, apparently sought to dispel those concerns, telling reporters that Mr. Abe shared the views expressed in the 1995 apology, which was made by a Socialist prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama. At a separate news conference, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said the Abe government would not revise the 1993 apology, which formally recognized the military's responsibility in forcing women into sexual slavery...


Maybe "the Abe government would not revise the 1993 apology, which formally recognized the military’s responsibility in forcing women into sexual slavery" is what Suga wanted to say.

Unfortunately, what actually came out of his mouth, according to the NHK video report (Link - J video) was:
"[The Abe Government] has not said that it is studying the Kono Statement, including the possibility of revision. For the Abe Government, the basic line of thought is that t[he sex slave issue] is not one we must make into a political or foreign policy issue."
Suga's syntax and word choice open possibilities for coy "How were we to know?" excuses later, on the order of "How were we to know that foreign governments were going to make political or foreign policy issues of our revising of the Kono Statement?" There is also that peculiar use of the phrase "must make into" (ni saseru beki)– as if there were some outside force pressing upon the poor, defenseless Abe Government, pushing it to make revisions to the Kono Statement it does not want to make.

Then there is the matter of the seemingly superfluous "the basic line of thought is that" (to iu no ga kihonteki na kangaekata da). It is true that there are no word police to cut short this kind of verbal spinning of wheels. As a consequence such verbosity is rampant, particularly in political speech.

This does not mean that Suga was not being very careful in piling up a wall of subordination at the end of his sentence. He has left open the door for a "Well, it was not our basic idea to revise the Kono Statement...but we were thinking about revision in a sort of oblique way...and then the political situation changed and we decided to go through with it."

As for trusting what members of the Abe Government say, there is that problem too. When a snake tells you "I'm not hungry" (Or, more specifically, "My basic thought is that I'm not hungry") -- is what matters is the fact that the snake said, "I'm not hungry" or that he is a snake?

So, yes -- I do prefer Toko Sekiguchi's more cautious take on the same story (Link) -- but even she puts in a "never" where it does not likely belong.

Later - The online English-language edition of Pravda-by-the-Palace checks in with its own restrained version of the story (Link). The kicker phrase in the English language version is "effectively modifying Abe's position on history." In an abbreviated Japanese version of the story, the operative phrase is shusho no hatsugen o jijitsujo kido shusei suru koto -- which translates more literally as "what is for all intents and purposes a rectification of the trajectory of the prime minister's statements." (Link - J)

Image courtesy: NHK


Scott said...

Is amazing how much meaning can get lost or missed in translation by how well the Japanese can articulate themselves ambiguously. The saseru part is a wonderful device. Snake is an apt term here.

Philippe said...

Assuming there is some truth to it that this recent about-face is a response to pressure from the US (as some pundits posit), the wording is an interesting dig at the US (look, we’ll shut up, for now…). It still allows the Abe-apologists to claim that he is reasonable, and blah, blah.

Meanwhile, this mainichi english mini article has one interesting sentence: … document produced by a postwar international military tribunal containing a Japanese soldier's testimony about abducting Chinese women as military sex slaves …. I might wonder how much that has influenced the new statement, esp after the recent declarations by Abe-san (both the jan-feb ones and the april one). I’ve no idea if (and how! buried deeply in some article?) this appeared in the Japanese language media, as I haven’t had any time / energy to investigate.