Japanese Leader to Make 1st Official Visit to Pearl Harbor

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to place a wreath at the Honolulu Memorial, Dec. 26, 2016, in Honolulu. (Bruce Asato/The Star-Advertiser via AP)
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to place a wreath at the Honolulu Memorial, Dec. 26, 2016, in Honolulu. (Bruce Asato/The Star-Advertiser via AP)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will pay homage to American war dead Tuesday at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor in a controversial visit that has been denounced by China.

President Barack Obama will escort Abe to the Arizona, which was sunk by Japanese warplanes from the Imperial Japanese Fleet 75 years ago and is the final resting place for most of the 1,177 sailors and Marines on board who were killed in the attack.

Obama will also take Abe to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam field which was strafed and bombed in the Japanese surprise attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that killed more than 2,400 Americans and brought the U.S. into World War II.

In all, a total of 2,335 sailors, soldiers and Marines were killed in the attack, as well as 68 civilians, and at least another 1,100 were wounded, according to the National Park Service which maintains the Arizona Memorial.

In a statement last week, the White house said that the Obama-Abe meeting will be "an opportunity for the two leaders to review our joint efforts over the past four years to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, including our close cooperation on a number of security, economic, and global challenges."

The meeting will also "showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values," the White House said.

Abe may not be the first Japanese prime minister to go to the Arizona site -- Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida is believed to have visited during a stop in Hawaii in 1951 -- but Abe will be the first to participate in an official ceremony.

Abe's trip to Pearl Harbor was a response to Obama's wreath-laying visit last May to Hiroshima, the first by an American president to the scene of the first atomic bombing of a city.

In a speech to a silent crowd at the Hiroshima National Peace, Obama envisioned a world without nuclear weapons. Much like the Arizona Memorial, the Hiroshima site is a place of solemn pilgrimage to recall the loss and horrors of war.

"We have known the agony of war. Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace, and pursue a world without nuclear weapons," Obama later wrote in the visitors' book.

President-elect Donald Trump, who criticized Japan during the campaign for not paying enough for its own defense, has made no comment thus far on Abe's visit. When Obama visited Hiroshima, Trump went on Twitter to state: "Does President Obama ever discuss the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor while he's in Japan? Thousands of American lives lost."

On Nov. 17, Trump met with Abe at Trump Tower in Manhattan. Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with the president-elect.

Obama made no formal apology for the bombing of Hiroshima, or the following nuclear attack on Nagasaki, and the Japanese Foreign Ministry, in announcing Abe's Pearl Harbor visit earlier this month, said he also would make no formal apology while offering condolences and calling for a lasting peace.

For Abe, his presence at the Arizona Memorial will culminate a decades-long struggle by Japan to deal with its wartime legacy of brutal aggression. For rightists in Japan, the war in the Pacific was a response to a U.S. oil embargo and efforts to thwart Japan's creation of a "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere."

Guidelines from the Japanese Ministry of Education call on students to learn that "Japan caused tremendous damage to many countries, especially in Asia, and that Japan also suffered unprecedented damages in the Tokyo air raids, the battle of Okinawa and in Hiroshima and Nagasaki," according to The New York Times.

Attempts by Abe and his backers to gloss over Japan's history and omit wartime atrocities have enraged China, where an estimated 20 million Chinese died fighting the Japanese in the 1930s and 1940s, and South Korea, which Japan ruled as a colony from 1910 to 1945.

On Dec. 7, the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang called on Abe to take a "correct attitude" on Japanese militarism and war crimes during his visit to Hawaii.

"The international community pays close attention to whether Japan has a sincere and correct attitude towards that period of history," Lu said, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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