Abe deflects politicians’ responsibility on judging Yasukuni war criminals

by Reiji Yoshida

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe argued Tuesday that only historians — and not contemporary politicians — will eventually make the correct call on how Japanese Class-A war criminals should be judged.

Abe declined to comment on the issue despite growing concerns in China and South Korea over the view of history held by the newly appointed hawkish government secretary.

“Once (the late) Prime Minister Ohira said that it’s a matter that historians should judge. I cannot agree with him more,” Abe told a regular news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Abe was being asked by reporters about his views on the 14 war criminals honored at Yasukuni Shrine, including wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo.

He was using his usual rhetoric to avoid commenting on sensitive issues surrounding the 14 Class-A War Criminals enshrined at Yasukuni.

Abe has in the past lavished praise on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s annual visits to Yasukuni, arguing every prime minister should pay homage at the shrine which honors 2.46 million war dead in addition to the war criminals.

However, Abe — appointed the top government spokesman only on Monday — used much gentler language than before while commenting on the sentiment of Chinese and South Koreans over the Yasukuni issue.

“I can understand very well (why) China and South Korea reacted in such a way,” he told the news conference, apparently softening his tone out of diplomatic considerations.

“But we have to sincerely explain that (Koizumi) has paid visits to pray for the repose of those who died for the country,” he added.

The Class-A war criminals were found guilty by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in 1948, but conservative Japanese politicians and scholars often argue the trial was unfair.

Abe’s grandfather is the late Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, who was arrested as a war crime suspect by the Allied Occupation soon after the end of the war. He was released in 1948 without being indicted.