Asia Minute: The Politics of Historical Apologies in Asia

Jul 21, 2015

Over the weekend, an executive of Mitsubishi Materials apologized for forcing American prisoners of war to perform slave labor during World War Two. While the move was well-received in the United States, in parts of Asia there was a different reaction. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Apologies and politics can be closely linked…especially when they involve Japan and World War II.  You may have heard an executive with Mitsubishi Materials has apologized for the company’s use of American prisoners of war as slave labor.  A 94-year-old American survivor welcomed the apology…the first from a major Japanese company.  But Sunday’s apology was directed to American prisoners of war…no mention of the thousands of Koreans and Chinese also forced into slave labor at Mitsubishi’s mines.

China’s “Global Times” wrote Monday that “the Japanese government and corporations are dealing with the wartime forced labor issue differently between its U.S. ally and Asian neighbors.”  In April, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke to the U-S Congress and gave his “eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II.”  Twenty years ago, Japan’s then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama gave the government’s broadest apology for the war saying that Japan, “through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.”

Across Asia, there is much speculation about what the current Prime Minister will have to say on August 15th…the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.