Alternate to Yasukuni won’t stop future visits

by Reiji Yoshida

Building a new national memorial for the nation’s war dead would not keep prime ministers from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, the government’s top spokesman said Tuesday.

During a summit in Seoul the previous day, South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun said he and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed that Tokyo would “consider” building a new, secular war memorial in view of the controversies caused by Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni, which served as a spiritual pillar for Japanese militarism during the 1930s and 1940s.

But such a facility would not necessarily mean a permanent end to future prime ministers going to Yasukuni, because such visits are “private” in the first place, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda argued.

“We can’t make a decision for a (future) prime minister right now, regardless of the political situation and all other factors that might be in place at that time,” Hosoda told reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence.

Hosoda also said the public is divided over Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni, and the government needs more time to decide on a new war memorial.

Many veterans and relatives of the war dead visit Yasukuni Shrine.

After returning to Tokyo on Tuesday, Koizumi said he would not be affected by Chinese and South Korean protests against his shrine visits when he considers the proposed war memorial.

“It is something Japan will consider on its own,” Koizumi told reporters when asked if he thinks a new facility would soften criticism from Japan’s neighbors over the issue.

The government will take the public’s views on the envisaged war memorial into consideration, he said.

Koizumi has made one trip annually since he took office in April 2001. The prime minister’s annual visits to the shrine have drawn harsh protests from China and South Korea because it honors fallen soldiers as well as 14 Class-A war criminals convicted after World War II.

The Yasukuni issue was high on the agenda when Koizumi met Roh on Monday, but the two leaders failed to bridge their differences during the two-hour summit.

Roh was quoted as saying during the meeting that the Yasukuni issue remains “the core” of the dispute between the two countries, linked by Japan’s wartime past. The comment was seen as an implicit call to end the visits.

Koizumi, for his part, repeated his official stance — that he makes the visits as a way of promising that Japan will never go to war again, according to Japanese government officials.

Information from Kyodo added