Ministry rebuts Aso editorial in N.Y. Times

by Jun Hongo

The New York Times printed a letter Sunday from the Foreign Ministry criticizing an editorial that described Prime Minister Taro Aso as a pugnacious nationalist.

The prestigious paper’s Sept. 25 editorial, titled “The Return of Taro Aso,” said the prime minister, “who is well known as a pugnacious nationalist by neighbor countries,” needs to “swap nationalism for pragmatism when it comes to foreign relations.”

“As foreign minister from 2005 to 2007, Mr. Aso soured relations with China and South Korea and raised tensions throughout the region, praising the achievements of prewar Japanese colonialism, justifying wartime atrocities and portraying China as a dangerous military threat,” the editorial said.

The response letter, dated Oct. 1 and written by Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Kazuo Kodama, says it disagrees with the editorial and argues that the prime minister “greatly contributed to enhancing relations” with its neighbors as foreign minister.

Aso “strengthened Japan’s equal partnerships with China and South Korea” and has experienced good ties with his neighbor, Kodama said, adding that his former counterparts Li Zhaoxing of China and Ban Ki Moon of South Korea have welcomed Aso’s efforts and friendship that improved ties.

Aso, generally known for his blunt speeches and conservative foreign policies, has described China as a “growing military threat” and accused Beijing of politicizing the Yasukuni Shrine issue.

He has at times made his revisionist views public, including justification for forcing Koreans to adopt Japanese names during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the peninsula.