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Tough Times for Abe

4:19 PM, Aug 8, 2007 • By DUNCAN CURRIE
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It was a bad week for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, one of America's most important allies. First his party took a "thumping" (as George W. Bush might say) in upper house elections on Sunday, July 29th. Then, a day later, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution urging Tokyo to formally apologize and "accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner" for the mistreatment of thousands of sex slaves in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

Japan issued an official apology for the so-called "comfort women" in 1993, but it was never ratified by parliament. Many Japanese conservatives, including Prime Minister Abe, have shown a troubling tendency to downplay or sugarcoat such imperial atrocities. (The Rape of Nanking is another example.) Indeed, a large bloc of Japanese MPs has pushed to revise the 1993 apology.

The "history issue" remains a stubborn and embarrassing problem for Japan. But here is my take, from a few months ago, on why it shouldn't discredit Tokyo's new foreign policy agenda, which is based around prudent self-defense, a greater acceptance of international duties, and what Foreign Minister Taro Aso calls "value-oriented diplomacy." (And here is a related piece on the overblown fears of resurgent Japanese nationalism.)