WASHINGTON – Tensions in East Asia would rise if Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the 68th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the war, according to a U.S. government report.
A visit by Abe or members of his Cabinet to the Shinto shrine in central Tokyo on the “sensitive” anniversary of Japan’s surrender “could again spike tension in the region,” the report by the influential Congressional Research Service says.
Titled “Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress,” Friday’s report refers to sharp reactions by China and South Korea to past trips by influential politicians to Yasukuni, which honors convicted Class-A war criminals among Japan’s war dead.
Describing Abe as being “known for his strong nationalist views,” the report says comments and actions on controversial historical issues by Abe and his Cabinet have raised “concern that Tokyo could upset regional relations in ways that hurt U.S. interests.”
Abe’s approach to issues such as the women who were forced into wartime sexual servitude under the Japanese military will be “closely monitored” by Japan’s neighbors as well as the United States, the report says.
In discussing Abe’s major policy goal of increasing Japan’s military capabilities, it says U.S. officials are in general supportive of strengthening Tokyo’s defense posture in the region.
On the other hand, the report says, U.S. officials “quietly voice their concern about historical disagreements affecting cooperative efforts, particularly in developing closer trilateral coordination with Japan and South Korea.”
China’s assertive claim to the Senkaku Islands embodies Japan’s security challenges, the report says. Beijing has been repeatedly sending armed ships into Japanese waters near the islets since last fall.
Japan has “an acute need” for the Self-Defense Forces to build up their capacity in the southwest part of the archipelago, the congressional report says.
It also takes up Japan’s political instability, pointing out the revolving door in the prime minister’s office.
Among those who could only stay in power for a short while was Abe, who held the post during his first sting from just 2006 to 2007.
“This period of political instability may have come to an end in July 2013 with the landslide victory” of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party in the Upper House election, it says.