Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government may have its concerns about the Chinese military parade held to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, but China had optics prepared to counter those complaints. Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, whose famous “Murayama Statement” of 1995 became the benchmark for measuring Japanese apologies, was supposed to attend. My colleague Ankit Panda outlined the significance of Murayama’s presence at the parade.
Only it now seems that Murayama didn’t go to Tiananmen Square on Thursday after all. A report from Hong Kong’s Phoenix News said that Murayama did not attend the parade due to an illness. Murayama is 91 years old.
The Phoenix report said that Li Xiaolin, the head of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries visited Murayama in the hospital to wish him a speedy recovery and convey the greetings of Chinese leaders.* Murayama told Li that he had come to China specifically for the 70th anniversary events, and expressed his regret that he would not be able to attend all the events due to health issues. He urged continued efforts to promote the development of China-Japan relations, noting a long history of friendship between the two countries.
A contradicting report from Global Times said that Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan had greeted Murayama outside the square before the “troop review” (阅兵). However, there were no further details or images with that story.
The Global Times report noted that Murayama had attended two previous Chinese military parades, in 1999 and 2009 (to celebrate the 50th and 60th anniversaries, respectively, of the founding of the People’s Republic of China).
Other than the Global Times report, Murayama’s names was conspicuously absent from official media recaps of the military parade. CCTV’s official broadcast of the parade didn’t appear to show Murayama in attendance. No mention of the former Japanese prime minister was made in a Xinhua report specifically devoted to detailing the “wide foreign presence” at the parade.
Previous media coverage, which focused on Murayama’s presence as a symbol of China-Japan reconciliation (based, of course, on Murayama’s willingness to admit to and apologize for wrongdoing on the part of Imperial Japan). A People’s Daily article published the day before the parade put Murayama first in a list of “Japanese celebrities who squarely face up to history” (others on the list: former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, director and animator Hayao Miyazaki, and author Haruki Murakami). The piece praised Murayama not only for his 1995 apology, but for his remarks urging Abe to include language on Japan’s colonial rule and aggression in the “Abe Statement.”
Murayama’s illness seems to have derailed his attendance at the parade, although Chinese state media is being coy about confirming that. From Beijing’s point of view, though, it’s very much the thought that counts — Murayama’s intention to attend should count for more than the alleged frail health that prevented him from coming.
*A previous edition of this article misidentified Li Xiaolin as the daughter of Li Peng.