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Japan hails Pearl Harbour visit while bracing for Trump

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 - 18:15

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Japanese on Wednesday hailed a historic visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Pearl Harbour, praising his message of reconciliation with the United States but wary of the future after Donald Trump takes office.

[TOKYO] Japanese on Wednesday hailed a historic visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Pearl Harbour, praising his message of reconciliation with the United States but wary of the future after Donald Trump takes office.

Interest in Mr Abe's visit to the site of Japan's December 7, 1941 attack that drew the US into World War II has been high, with many favourably comparing it to President Barack Obama's journey this year to Hiroshima.

Both visits were highly choregraphed and in their remarks - Mr Obama in Hiroshima and Mr Abe in Hawaii - neither apologised or even explicitly said their countries carried out the respective attacks.

But despite the careful words, the symbolism of their standing together again, this time at Pearl Harbour, was clear to most in Japan.

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National broadcaster NHK provided live coverage of their joint address around 7.00am Japan time.

It was delivered after the two men visited the memorial to the battleship USS Arizona, sunk in the surprise Japanese attack.

Kuniyoshi Takimoto, 95, a former navy aircraft mechanic on a carrier that took part in the raid, praised Mr Abe's words.

"It was a beautiful message that deeply reflected the sentiment of both American and Japanese people," he told AFP.

But Mr Takimoto was also critical of Mr Abe's hawkish policy to expand the role of Japan's constitutionally constrained military, including enabling combat missions abroad.

"The beautiful message has a catch," he said.

Mr Abe's visit was slightly overshadowed by one of his own ministers, who visited the controversial Yasukuni war shrine in Tokyo just hours after Abe went to Pearl Harbour.

Masahiro Imamura, minister in charge of the reconstruction of northern Japan after the 2011 tsunami, was quoted by public broadcaster NHK as saying the timing of his visit was "a coincidence".

But Haruko Satou, professor of international politics at Osaka University, suggested that while Mr Imamura's true intention was unknown the timing was suspicious.

"It's natural to think that he chose the same day when Prime Minister Abe visited Pearl Harbour," Ms Satou told AFP.

Imamura's action is "likely to have a negative impact on Japan's diplomacy and offset the positive image of Abe's historic visit", she said.

Mr Abe's visit was also closely watched in China, where it was noted that he stressed ties with the US over Asia.

"If Japan really wants to reconcile over historical issues, Abe chose the wrong place," the nationalist Global Times newspaper commented, saying he should visit Nanjing, the site of a 1937 Japanese massacre, or elsewhere in China.

China's foreign ministry also weighed in, with spokeswoman Hua Chunying calling for a "sincere apology" to Asian countries that suffered from Japanese militarism.

Mr Abe aimed to highlight the significance of close military and economic relations with the US as Mr Trump prepares to assume power amid major questions about his policies, several Japanese media outlets said.

Mr Trump, during his campaign, accused Japan of not paying its fair share in supporting the military alliance, and suggested Tokyo could even develop its own nuclear deterrent.

Mr Abe's speech also expressed Japan's appreciation for US reconstruction aid after World War II. Commentator Takashi Ryuzaki said that comment was designed to engage the US public who supported Mr Trump.

"Rather than offering an apology, the message of gratitude for what America did after the war was expressed," Mr Ryuzaki said on a TBS morning show.

The desire for a continued solid Japan-US relationship is what most Japanese, including Tokyoite Kazuko Masuda, 57, say they want.

"Mr Trump utters all those strong words... but I really hope he as an individual is the kind of person who walks an honourable path," she said.

AFP

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