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June 27, 2017

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Japanese opposition fears Abe is 'destabilizing' the region

WASHINGTON--Japan's main opposition leader on Tuesday chided Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for conservative statements on war history and voiced fear he could be a "destabilizing" factor in East Asia.

On a visit to Washington, Banri Kaieda, president of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said he remained fully committed to the country's past expressions of regret for its wartime behavior.

Kaieda said that the Abe government's remarks and actions had alienated Japan's neighbors as well as its U.S. and European allies by "fueling suspicions that Prime Minister Abe may be a historical revisionist."

"I clearly reject historical revisionism and will oppose it," Kaieda said at the Brookings Institution think tank, vowing that his party "will safeguard the mature democracy fostered by post-war Japanese society."

"Domestically, the Abe administration has now made its authoritarian tendencies clear and internationally, the Abe administration could move beyond the realm of healthy nationalism and become a destabilizing factor in East Asia," Kaieda said.

Abe in December paid a pilgrimage to the Yasukuni shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including convicted war criminals from World War II. The move outraged China and South Korea and led to a rare public rebuke by the United States, Japan's main ally.

Abe, whose grandfather was arrested but not prosecuted as a war criminal, is known for his conservative views and while in opposition questioned whether imperial Japan forced women into sexual slavery, although he has since indicated he will not revoke a landmark 1993 apology to the so-called "comfort women."

Kaieda voiced hope for strong relations with both Asian neighbors and the United States, saying that Japan could still voice concerns over actions by a rising China while expressing remorse for the past.

Kaieda repeatedly portrayed himself as an ideological soul mate of U.S. President Barack Obama, saying that his party shared the U.S. Democrats' principles of social inclusion.

The Democratic Party of Japan "wants an open nation that's cosmopolitan, multicultural — an open nation with no gender discrimination. We will thoroughly oppose xenophobia," he said.

The center-left party led Japan from 2009 until 2012 when it was crushed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party. The ruling coalition later won upper house elections, handing Abe a stronger political position than any Japanese prime minister in nearly a decade.

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