|Koizumi must discuss what is in the national interest - about visiting the Yasukuri Shrine
By SHUZO MOCHIDA Asahi Shimbun Political News Editor
Whenever Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi finds himself pushed into a corner on the slide in bilateral relations with China, he often answers with a rhetorical question.
Usually, it goes like this: ``Do you think Japan-China relations would improve that much if I stopped paying my respects at Yasukuni Shrine? That won't happen. Other issues will come up one after another.''
What he says is most likely very true. Indeed, it is no longer enough to repeatedly mouth that ``friendship is the priority.''
What is hard to fathom is Koizumi's dogged determination to continue visiting the shrine that honors Class-A war criminals along with the nation's war dead.
Koizumi shed tears when he visited the kamikaze museum in Chiran, Kagoshima Prefecture, and read farewell letters penned by young pilots before they went off on their suicide missions. He has repeatedly visited the shrine since he became prime minister in April 2001, knowing full well each time that it would trigger sharp reactions from China and South Korea.
I was keen to learn why Koizumi is so adamant about visiting Yasukuni so I listened carefully to Thursday's Diet debate on the issue.
All he said, though, was that he visited out of his sense of ``mourning'' for the war dead.
I wonder if that is really all there is to it. I think something else drives the prime minister.
Perhaps his motive is to erase the perception of history created by the international military tribunal known as the Tokyo Trial after World War II that held leaders of the wartime government and military responsible for war crimes and aggression. This line of thinking is pursued by those who believe the war was fought in self-defense and to liberate Asia from European colonial rule. They contend that Japan alone should not take the blame.
Asked about the Class-A war criminals, Koizumi said, ``I think they are war criminals.''
He doesn't seem to have much conviction on this point.
So is Koizumi's intent to prevent Beijing from using the ``history card'' in its dealings with Japan?
Overcoming the issue of history between Japan and China, including the pros and cons of ``patriotic education'' in China, is indeed something that must be tackled.
But that's easier said than done. It is hard for the aggressor to say to its victims, ``What's past is past so let's forget.''
Also, Koizumi has not followed up on plans to build a new secular facility for the war dead that would be completely separate from Yasukuni.
Beijing and Seoul have both placed high expectations on such a move. This suggests that Koizumi never bothered to map out a proper scenario in dealing with this contentious issue.
So, it remains unclear what Koizumi is trying to achieve through his repeated visits to Yasukuni. What possible national interest could he be trying to attain through such actions?
In the meantime, Japan's relations with China and South Korea have nose-dived.
Ironically, Koizumi's actions would seem to have backfired. He has inadvertently triggered a situation whereby Japan's Asian neighbors feel using the ``history card'' is their best weapon.
When Yasuhiro Nakasone made an official visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 1985, the first by a prime minister while in office, he said it was his way of settling postwar politics.
However, he refrained from visiting the shrine the following year in the face of protests from China and elsewhere.
He said at the time: ``I will carry out policies based on internationally acceptable common sense and wisdom, taking into consideration the emotions of the people of Asia and elsewhere. That is also a way to protect our national interests.''
Kiichi Miyazawa, who later took office, took a cloak-and-dagger approach to the issue.
It is said he secretly visited Yasukuni in a private capacity, apparently to quell protests from rightwing groups who were against Emperor Akihito's first visit to China in 1992.
Either way, the two former prime ministers experienced the same dilemma as Koizumi and resolved the issue-both on the domestic and diplomatic fronts.
So, what about Koizumi?
On May 23, Wu Yi, a visiting Chinese vice premier, canceled a scheduled meeting with Koizumi, citing urgent business at home. Beijing later explained it was protesting Koizumi's continued Yasukuni visits.Asked about the cancellation, Koizumi commented: ``Maybe the opposition's boycott (of Diet deliberations over the government's postal privatization bill) is contagious.''
It is all very well to point the finger at China's lack of etiquette. But it is hard to believe that Koizumi gives much thought to diplomacy when he speaks in the same way as he would when trying to provoke the opposition and groups within his own Liberal Democratic Party who are against his reform plans.
There is a deadlock in Japan's diplomacy with neighboring nations. That has major ramifications on issues that Koizumi obviously regards as very important, namely Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and Tokyo's bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
Koizumi should grapple with the gravity of what will be lost through his continued contention that paying respects at Yasukuni is ``an issue of the heart.''(IHT/Asahi: June 4,2005)
Sunday, June 5, 2005
Separation of war criminals 'will never happen': Yasukuni
Yasukuni Shrine will not separate Class-A war criminals from the ranks of Japan's war dead honored there, because the outcome of the Tokyo warcrimes tribunal that convicted them remains controversial, officials from the Shinto shrine have said in a written statement.
"This is a matter of Japanese religious faith. . . . Their separate enshrinement will never happen," they said in response to questions from Kyodo News.
Yasukuni's flat rejection of a proposal to separate 14 Class-A war criminals -- including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo -- from Japan's 2.5 million war dead comes as Japan's ties with China and South Korea remain tense due to Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Tokyo shrine.
Japan's Asian neighbors see Yasukuni, particularly with the war criminals enshrined there, as symbolic of unrepentant nationalism and regard visits to it by government leaders as insensitive and insulting.
Removing the 14 people from the ranks of the war dead enshrined at Yasukuni has frequently been suggested by lawmakers as a possible solution to the diplomatic row.
The statement attributed the shrine's rejection to "lingering objections" voiced by some experts on international law over the validity of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East after World War II.
It also said the Diet unanimously adopted a resolution in 1953 denying the existence of "war criminals" in Japan in connection with World War II.
The shrine officials said that as a result of revisions from 1953 to 1955 to laws concerning government relief for families of the war dead, the government began treating convicted war criminals the same as the nation's war dead.
Noting that Nobusuke Kishi, once arrested as a Class-A war criminal but later released without indictment, went on to become prime minister from 1957 to 1960, the statement said, "There was no recognition of war criminals among the Japanese at all."
In view of Japan's troubled ties with China and South Korea, even some lawmakers from Koizumi's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have proposed separating the war criminals.
Hidenao Nakagawa, chairman of the LDP's Diet Affairs Committee, expressed hope late last month that Yasukuni would make such a move through discussions with the families of the war criminals.
Shingo Oyama, chief of Yasukuni's public relations office, said that although there have been inquiries by the government and the LDP, the shrine has received no specific requests for the separate enshrinement of the Class-A war criminals.
Koizumi has visited the shrine once a year since taking office in April 2001. He last visited it on New Year's Day, 2004.
He has repeatedly said his visits are aimed at paying tribute to Japan's war dead, not to the Class-A war criminals.
Yasukuni enshrined the 14 war criminals in 1978.
China says words are insufficient to show Japan's atonement for various atrocities it committed during the war and has urged Koizumi to show his atonement through action.
The Japan Times: June 5 , 2005