Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the leading candidate to succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, said Wednesday he will try to hold bilateral summit meetings with China and South Korea if he becomes prime minister.
Japan has not had a summit with the leader of either country since last year. Relations with Seoul and Beijing soured after Koizumi refused to halt his well-publicized annual visits to war-linked Yasukuni Shrine.
The Tokyo shrine honors 14-Class A war criminals along with the war dead.
“We want to make efforts to realize summit talks with (China and South Korea) and urge them to do so,” Abe told reporters in a special interview ahead of the official start of the Liberal Democratic Party’s presidential campaign on Friday. The leadership election, set for Sept. 20, will also determine the next prime minister.
Abe, who openly backs Koizumi’s visits, made the remarks in response to speculation that diplomats in the three countries are arranging for summits to be held when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meets in Hanoi in mid-November.
Abe declined to comment on a possible summit date.
In his policy platform announced Friday, Abe pledged to restore mutual trust between Tokyo and China and South Korea.
As for Yasukuni, Abe said the perception that visiting Yasukuni is tantamount to praising Japan’s wartime militarism is based on a “misunderstanding.”
He said the next administration will have to remain “humble” in its understanding of wartime history.
One of the most sensitive areas for the hawkish Abe is his position on Japan’s responsibility for the war. He has expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the Tokyo Trial held by the Allied Occupation after the war and is believed to be sympathetic to those who question characterizations of Japan’s role in the war as aggressive.
Asked if he will accept the government’s official position, first stated in 1995 by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, that Japan’s wartime conduct was aggressive, Abe ducked the question by saying that “It was a historic speech by the Japanese government.”
In the speech, Murayama said: “Through its colonial rule and aggression, Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.”
Abe also said the next prime minister should express his views on Japan’s activities during the war years.
But when asked the same question later at a regular news conference, Abe fell back on his usual answer and said that the interpretation of Japan’s war activity should be left to historians, not politicians.
Touching on his long-standing desire to see the pacifist Constitution revised, Abe said during the group interview that if he becomes prime minister, he will not rush toward that goal.
“It’s not an issue that we should tackle hastily. But at the same time, we cannot move forward without any leadership,” Abe said.