Yasukuni visits shouldn’t be an issue in LDP presidential election, Abe says

by Reiji Yoshida

Contenders for the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential election should avoid making an issue out of Yasukuni Shrine, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said Tuesday.

Apparently trying to avoid a political minefield before the poll, the hawkish 51-year-old Abe, widely considered the front runner for next LDP president and thus prime minister, said it is vital that such an important issue not be addressed before the party’s election in September.

“I think a majority of people believe it is only natural that (a prime minister) should pray for the people who fought for the country,” Abe said at a news conference.

“But on the other hand, because of Japan’s historical background, this has become a diplomatic issue and a political issue,” Abe, the top government spokesman, said. “I think it’s important not to make it a diplomatic or political issue.”

Abe is known as one of the most vocal supporters of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s contentious annual visits to the Shinto shrine in Tokyo that honors Japan’s 2.47 million war dead — along with 14 Class-A war criminals.

“I question if we should deepen discussion on this issue” during the policy debates for the LDP race, Abe said.

Anti-Koizumi and anti-Abe politicians have formed alliances opposing Koizumi’s well-publicized visits to Yasukuni Shrine, apparently believing the issue could prove an Achilles heel for both. Abe is a follower of Koizumi diplomacy.

Chinese and South Korean leaders immediately protest every time Koizumi visits Yasukuni and after he tries to justify his trips.

His most recent visit resulted in the cancellation of two summits with Asian leaders.

Koizumi, who has enjoyed public popularity because of his initiatives in domestic and economic matters, has been under fire for eroding ties with Japan’s two Asian neighbors by continuing the contentious visits to Yasukuni.