Japan's defense minister apologized yesterday for comments about the 1945 US atomic bomb attacks on the country that outraged survivors and drew criticism from the ruling bloc ahead of a key election in July.
Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said he had not meant to offend the victims when he said on Saturday that the bombings "couldn't be helped" because they had brought World War II to an end and prevented the Soviet Union from entering the war against Japan.
"If my remarks were seen as lacking regard for the feelings of atomic bomb victims, then I am sorry," he told a news conference. On Saturday, Kyuma had said in a speech: "My understanding is that it ended the war and that it couldn't be helped ... I don't hold a grudge against the United States."
The remarks drew condemnation from victims of the August 6, 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and the August 9 attack on Nagasaki, which together killed more than 210,000 people by the end of the year. Some opposition parties demanded Kyuma's resignation.
Five groups representing Nagasaki bomb survivors yesterday asked Kyuma, elected from a Nagasaki constituency, not to attend a peace ceremony on the anniversary of the bombing next month, Kyodo news service reported.
The groups, including the Nagasaki Council of A-bomb Sufferers, noted that Kyuma had attended the annual event in the past, adding: "While listening to those who suffered from the atomic bombing wish for peace, you most probably must have been thinking it 'can't be helped.'"
Abe won't fire Kyuma
Though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the bombings "an unforgivable act", he said yesterday that he would not fire Kyuma.
"I want Mr Kyuma to exercise his leadership as the defense minister on the issue of nuclear disarmament in the future," Abe said in a debate with Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party.
But ruling party executives urged Kyuma to apologize for his remarks, in a bid to minimize the damage ahead of the July 29 upper house election.
"If the comments were misunderstood, then he should explain and apologize," Shoichi Nakagawa, policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), said earlier yesterday.
Abe has seen his support ratings drop to around 30 percent recently largely due to voter anger over the government's mishandling of pension records.
Officials in Japan - the only nation to suffer an atomic bombing - typically express sympathy for the victims, but most avoid criticizing the attacks out of consideration for Tokyo's ties with Washington, its closest ally.
Abe said yesterday he has no plans to seek an apology from the US over the atomic bombings of Japan during World War II.
"I think it's more important to focus on nuclear disarmament than to use our energy seeking an apology from the United States," he said during a political debate.
Abe also said Japan, which renounces nuclear weapons, also has to face "the reality that we need to rely on US deterrence" against Pyongyang's threat.
Political scientist Jiro Yamaguchi of Hokkaido University said yesterday the Kyuma flap underscores a lack of leadership by Abe and bodes ill for his government.
(China Daily via agencies July 2, 2007)