Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Pearl Harbor with President Barack Obama later this month, becoming the first Japanese leader to visit the site of the attack on Hawaii 75 years ago that thrust America into World War II.
The joint visit comes after Obama went to Hiroshima with Abe in May, becoming the first American leader to visit the site where the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 to end Japan’s involvement in the war.
Abe said Monday that he would go to Hawaii on Dec. 26-27 to “pay tribute” to military personnel from both sides of the Pacific who died during the war.
“This visit is to comfort the souls of the victims. We’d like to send messages about the importance of reconciliation [between the two countries],” Abe told reporters in Tokyo.
The 75th anniversary of the attack falls this Wednesday, Dec. 7.
The White House welcomed Abe’s decision, confirming that Obama would accompany Abe to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor to honor those killed.
“The two leaders’ visit will showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies, united by common interests and shared values,” Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said in a statement.
“The 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,” he said.
There had been speculation that Abe would reciprocate Obama’s Hiroshima visit by coming to Pearl Harbor during the final days of Obama’s second and final term – and during Obama’s last annual two-week winter vacation as president.
The prime minister’s wife, Akie Abe, visited Pearl Harbor in August, laying flowers at the USS Arizona Memorial and meeting a survivor of the attack.
But the prime minister’s move will likely anger the more conservative forces in Abe’s right-wing government, who promote a revisionist view of Japan’s history and are seeking to restore Japan’s pride in its imperialist past.
While Abe shares some of these sympathies, he has also taken a pragmatic approach, issuing a statement expressing remorse for Japan’s World War II actions on the 70th anniversary of his country’s surrender last year. His government has also agreed on a final deal with South Korea to resolve the dispute over the Japanese army’s wartime use of women as sex slaves, euphemistically known as “comfort women.”
Just before 8 a.m. Hawaii time on Dec. 7, 1941, Japan launched a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Almost 200 aircraft bombed the site over 30 minutes, destroying the USS Arizona among other naval vessels. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the ambush “a date which will live in infamy,” and the following day asked Congress to declare war on Japan.
Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, 1945, following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Although the two nations have long since become close allies, Obama and Abe have attempted to use the visits to bring closure to old grievances.
Abe was the first foreign leader to meet with President-elect Donald Trump last month in New York. Tokyo has been alarmed at Trump’s rhetoric on trade and security, and Abe said afterward he had ” a very candid discussion” with him.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Anna Fifield