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Abe’s visit to Yasukuni to further incite hard-liners in China, South Korea

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel came to Tokyo in October, the pair paid an unexpected visit to a place considered neutral political ground in Chiyoda Ward.

No doubt the two were sending an indirect but unquestionably clear message to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by laying flowers at the Chidorigafuchi cemetery: don’t go to Yasukuni Shrine and stir up war-related anger in East Asia.

Chidorigafuchi is dedicated to the remains of unidentified Japanese who died overseas in the war.

Many political leaders have visited the cemetery over the years to express their condolences for war victims without drawing political flak.

Abe often defended politicians’ visits to Yasukuni Shrine by likening them with U.S. leaders’ visits to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

Kerry and Hagel apparently signalled, however, that if Abe wanted to pay homage to Japan’s war dead, he should go to Chidorigafuchi, not Yasukuni.

America believes it is vital that Japan, China and South Korea enjoy stable relations at a time when Washington must address various political and economic challenges in Asia.

But on Thursday Abe went ahead and visited Yasukuni. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo immediately posted an unusually blunt statement indirectly criticizing his move.

“Japan is a valued ally and friend. Nevertheless, the United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors,” the statement read.

“The United States hopes that both Japan and its neighbors will find constructive ways to deal with sensitive issues from the past, to improve their relations, and to promote cooperation in advancing our shared goals of regional peace and stability,” it read.

According to Kyodo News, the U.S. first considered expressing “regret” or “concern” in the statement, but the stronger language was chosen through prior consultation between the White House and the State Department.

Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden visited Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul to urge leaders to improve relations. Washington reportedly called on Abe not to go to Yasukuni.

Abe has centered his diplomacy on Japan’s close ties with the United States, particularly when it comes to China’s growing military and economic presence.

Since his inauguration last December, he had maintained a relatively low profile toward China and South Korea over matters of wartime history. He avoided revising official apologies regarding Japan’s aggression in other parts of Asia, despite earlier posturing suggesting otherwise.

A high-ranking official close to Abe earlier noted that because Japan crucially needs U.S. assistance in dealing with a number of diplomatic issues, efforts were made to soften his administration’s stance on sensitive historical issues.

“In my case, it all comes from consideration of (relations) with the U.S.,” the official said.

But this time, the official apparently failed to persuade Abe to give Yasukuni Shrine a miss.

Experts speculated that Abe opted to visit the shrine Thursday because he reckoned Japan’s relations with China and South Korea couldn’t get any worse.

Abe has repeatedly said his door is open if Seoul or Beijing want to have a summit, but no such meeting has happened since he took office and instead relations have deteriorated.

Abe didn’t visit Yasukuni on Aug. 15, the anniversary day of Japan’s World War II surrender, and apparently explored ways to arrange a summit in the fall. But China, with which Japan is recently and routinely confronting over its military forays around the Senkaku Islands, and South Korea, which holds islets that Japan claims, were not interested in meeting.

Abe meanwhile had appeared mindful of the risks of enraging Beijing and Seoul and disappointing Washington at the same time.

He immediately issued a written statement and an English-translated version Thursday regarding his Yasukuni visit.

Abe repeatedly emphasized his visit was not designed to “pay homage to war criminals,” and reiterated that Japan should never wage war again.

“It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people,” he said.

But Bonji Ohara, a China expert and research fellow at the Tokyo Foundation, said Abe’s visit to Yasukuni will only give hard-line Chinese leaders ammunition to take an even tougher stance against Japan.

China’s leaders will find it even more difficult to resist such pressure, he said.

  • Dean

    If this is not paying “pay homage to war criminals,” I don’t know what is. He he standing in front of the war lords and paying his respect.

    • Kamemura Hidetoshi

      “pay homage” isn’t exactly the right expression. “soothe those dead souls” and “pledge to never wage the war again” is more like reality. West reporters are not well describing the emotion of those who go to the shrine i guess.

      • The Truth

        No one will buy that. You don’t visit a Nazi cemetary to pray for world peace.

  • Marcus Vicis

    When will Japan learn that it was the aggressor in WW II and that indeed it owes its neighbors an apology for the atrocities that its military men inflicted to the countries Japan invaded? And will Japan learn that some the the military men buried at the Yasukuni shrine are war criminals?

    How would Germany look if Angela Merkel would visit a Nazi cemetery?

    • misterfister

      Blah blah blah…war criminals. It is convenient for you to forget that it was the United States oil embargoes on Japan that caused them to bomb Pearl Harbor. A first strike policy that should be quite familiar to all of us by now…

    • Kamemura Hidetoshi

      Japan apologized officially though.

  • pervertt

    Dog does not like being wagged. Tail, behave.

  • The Truth

    Two wrongs don’t make one right.

  • AussieLouis

    Your excuses for the barbaric atrocities of the Japanese military in WW2 is a disgrace. Millions of tortured dead are littered all over Asia. May their souls find peace despite your ugly distortion!

    If the Japanese believe they have done wrong and are truly an honourable people, they should clearly admit like the Germans, what they have done and learned from it.

    Otherwise you are going to invite the destruction of Japan as a civilised modern state which before Abe and other right wingers has done a lot of good for Asia and the world over the years. Abe is simply going to reverse all the goodwill which more enlightened Japanese leaders have painstakingly cultivated over the years in Asia.

    • 151E

      You’re right to hold the Germans up as a model of contrition and redemption. But you misconstrue my meaning – I make no excuse for Japanese wartime atrocities; I simply acknowledge that (sadly) their actions were hardly unique. War is barbaric business, and no nation ever achieved empire through peaceful means. Has England ever apologized for the Opium Wars? The French for their annexation of Vietnam? Or the US for suppressing Filipino independence? And kindly remind me again, AussieLouis, how peaceful was the colonization of Australia? Every nation has blood on its hands.

  • Christopher Glen

    Abe is a political nitwit, and by his actions at yasukuni he has likely set back relations with China and South Korea by years. People tend to overlook the museum at yasukuni glorifying Japan’s imperialistic past. That in addition to the war criminals enshrined at yasukuni makes the whole place a powder keg for international museums. Arlington has no war criminals enshrined there, nor does it have a “glorious” museum. An incorrect analogy on the part of Abe

    • Kamemura Hidetoshi

      I must wonder, if Japan’s crime was a “crime against humanity” by killing millions of innocent people (as Tokyo Tribunal stipulated), what do you say to the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, instantaneously and at randomly exterminating whole city’s population? How come it is not a “crime against humanity”?

      • The Truth

        That’s because Japan started the war and lost the war. That’s the price of being the aggressor and the loser.

      • Kamemura Hidetoshi

        Are you saying if Japan had won the war U.S. lost, U.S. would have been labeled as an aggressor and criminalized for the “crime against humanity”, and FDR was sentenced to death as war criminal? Accordingly as every US president goes to arlington, they might have been dondemned as has been Japanese prime ministers.?

      • The Truth

        No. Even if US lost the war Japan is still the aggressor, be that in China or in the Pacific since Japan started the war. The 2 atomic bombs were terrible and it is possible that the ones responsible for dropping the bombs could be put on trial by the Japanese if US lost the war. At the end of the day it is the victor of the war who defines the world order. The Japanese suffering was very much the result of its own aggression and the world opinion on the atomic bombing will be based on that.

      • Kamemura Hidetoshi

        Do you know why Japan “started” the war?

      • CS

        The Japanese copied and behaved just like European countries who had previously (violently and ruthlessly) colonized most of the world. They were so successful at it that the world domination of the Anglo-American establishment came under threat (and they certainly don’t like any competition). That is why the Japanese were provoked into WWII (similar to how the Anglo-American establishment were in love with Hitler and his eugenics right up until Germany actually became a direct threat to the balance of power). After WWII the ONLY reason that Japan and Germany received all the blame is that they lost. It really is that simple. None of the other major powers on the winning side (incl. the USSR under Stalin, arguably the most evil regime in history) had a moral leg to stand on whatsoever. It’s just that they emerged victorious — having waged total war against civilians (killing them indiscriminately by the millions) and immorally demanding nothing less than the “unconditional surrender” that would allow them dictate all the terms.

  • Christopher Glen

    True enough about Mao, but the whole point is Japan’s problems with its neighbours not China’s domestic past

  • David E. Spence

    Wars are entered into by governments and fought by its citizens. There is nothing wrong with honoring those who died in war. Yes, Japan (as a government) was the aggressor in WWII. And they were defeated. It has been 68 years since the end of WWII in the Pacific. Post war Japan has done far more for Southeast Asia since the war than China has. And both China and Korea have benefitted unbelievably by Japan’s investments and aid. I was a Great Depression baby and my brother died in the Pacific in WWII. I moved on a long time ago. It is high time we all moved on.

  • The Truth

    To worship war criminals who killed innocent civilians and treat them as gods?

    • cooler

      You mean Praying for the Dead Soldiers who fought bravely For JAPAN ,Right?
      It’s Nothing new & every countries would do that. Just top class soldiers as well as rest of the soldiers were buried there & going CRAZY ? Or China is too sensitive about Lost in battle & Still feeling resentments about loosing on battles to have citizen right as any other countries? Whatever it is none of China’s business to say anything over JAPAN.

      • The Truth

        You just not getting the point Cooler. War criminals are not soldiers killed in battle or doing their duties. They are cowards who ordered the killing of innocents and unarmed civilians including babies and children. That’s why they are considered as war criminals and should never be remembered in anyway. You are making a very poor judgement to consider they are all brave soldiers.

    • cooler

      To pray for brave soldiers of Japan including Big name like you know who .Nothing new & every country would do that.

  • The Truth

    I don’t understand why people always associate China’s condemnation with her domestic issues. Every country has domestic issues and one should not single out China just that her government is different. So why not we can also come to the conclusion that South Korea is using this as a smoke screen for domestic issues too.

  • The Truth

    The visit is condemned by China, Korea, Russia, US, Singapore, Thailand. Most Japanese also disagree with the visit. Your view is just a minority view at best.

    • CS

      Nonsense. It is “condemned” only by the Chinese and Koreans (the hypocrisy of which has no limits). In no way was it condemned by the US or Russia. Singapore and Thailand are decidedly pro-Japanese in their dealings. Also, your claim that “most Japanese disagree with the visit” backed by nothing but your own projecting. If you’re going to make up such spurious claims, you need to provide evidence.

  • The Truth

    Japan invaded its neighbors long before 1941. Japan occupied Taiwan, Korea and then Manchuria in 1933. Full invasion of China in 1937. US embargo was imposed as a result of Japan invasion of China. It was not there for no reason.

  • The Truth

    The embargo was used to put pressure on Japan to slow down its invasion of China or to force Japan to make peace with China. Obviously it put Japan in a difficult position but that was exactly the intention. It was Japan’s aggression that caused the embargo.

    • CS

      There is actually no logic to your statement. Japan’s aggression against China had nothing to do with the US. There was no treaty between them. Therefore, the cause of the embargo was NOT Japan’s aggression as you’ve falsely claimed, but rather FDR’s decision to interfere in the situation, create an embargo against against a country it was not at war with, and seize Japanese assets (outright theft). Oh, and FDR is the same man who later rounded up and threw all Japanese-American citizens into concentration camps based solely on their ethnicity. Good thing the US didn’t lose, or I dare say he’d be branded a war criminal (funny how that works)…

      • The Truth

        Why don’t you look up Wiki and find out why. I do Not make it up. The fact that it is beyond your brain to understand is your problem.

  • CS

    Just because you say something doesn’t make it true. Not only have you not shown it to be the case (your asking me to google it is a laughable dodge, since I did google it and confirmed that your claims about the US, Russia, Thailand, and Singapore “condemning” the visit are glaringly wrong, which I already knew), but it is simply untrue that my views are in the minority: actually less than half of Japanese think that Abe’s visiting Yasukuni is a bad idea, according to official polls. Your attempt at an argumentum ad populum is not even worth a real reply. Denial indeed.

    • The Truth

      So exactly what are the comments from these countries? Japan biggest ally was “disappointed”, Russia and Singapore expressed “regrets” and not to mention the outright condemnation by China and Korea, both South and North Korea. EU also criticized the visit. 70% of Japanese expressed concerns over the visit and believe Abe should heed the diplomatic implication and 47% responsed it was not good. It is not hard to see who belong to the minority here.

      • CS

        Your back-peddaling is laughable. As per your own words above, those countries did not “condemn” the Yasukuni visit. This means your original claim was false. Also “47% responded it was not good”, means that less than half consider it not good. By definition that is the minority view. Your claims are false.

      • The Truth

        You focus on the word is a clear sign you have no substance to your argument. The fact is that countries around the world are all disapproving the visit. No countries take your view that it is a matter of freedom of expression.

      • CS

        I’m just calling you out on your deliberate misinformation. You clearly stated that the visit was “condemned” by many countries (incl. the US) and now you’re whining that I’ve shown you to be completely wrong both in word and in spirit. In fact no countries except for China and Korea care a whit about the symbolism or alleged reasons behind the Yasukuni visit, they’re merely ostensibly “disappointed” since it gives those 2 countries’ arrogant/hypocritical governments another excuse to whine and beat their chests over nothing.

      • The Truth

        But they don’t help your argument CS. You are merely repeating they are not condemnation but in substance they are all condemnation in different degree. They are criticism of the visit and no one country support the visit.

  • The Truth

    Just name one country that support the visit by Abe. If you can’t you already failed your argument CS. You are entitled to your view but the world is not on your side.

  • The Truth

    Overtime they will be accepted? That means they are not accepted by the world now. I agree with this. This is the point I am trying to tell you and you finally admitted it. Great.

  • Kamemura Hidetoshi

    I was just asking since my ideas are merely based on the history textbook(allegedly whitewashed):
    1. Back then Asia esp. area around South Asia was tacitly or not targeted and colonized by the European colonial powers as was evidenced by France’s Indochina(now Vietnam), Holland’s East India(now Indonesia) and U.S.’s Phillipines, not to mention U.K’s India, Myanmar, and Malaysia. etc. With this international circumstances, Japan was always feeling scared and threatened by the likely course of history, i.e. colonization of Japan, not to mention Korea and majority of China by the European colonial powers. In order to fend off that scenario, Japan needed to strengthen itself.
    2. In order to strengthen itself, Japan needed to expand looking for the resources. (Of course on this point, Japan should have rethought its plan on the “moral” ground. Or better yet, Japan should have taken all those colonial European powers to the international trial on the ground of morality and crime against humanity… )
    3. Of course, in the course of and realization of Japan’s short-sighted expansionism, Japan conjured up the Manifest Destiny: Liberate the Asia from the hands of the European colonial powers. (Of course, as we now know clearly, it turned out exacerbating the situation a lot worse because it was just another colonial power to the local people. )

    Or, surely as China and Korea argue, Japanese race is inherently “barbaric” nature, so it was an aggressor from the beginning.

    These are my idea of why Japan “started” the war.
    So as you claim, if the claim that Japan was either way an aggressor since it started the war was true, can you think of any way that Japan could have possibly stopped its war or have not started it from the beginning?

    • The Truth

      Firstly I don’t agree any race is by its nature more barbaric then others. There is a dark side in the history of all civilization and races. If you look back it is not a long time ago that slaves were acceptable in the US and they were treated like animals for example. Millions of Indian died from famine under the British rule. So it is inappropriate to consider Japanese as “more barbaric” or uncivilized just because of the atrocities by the Imperial Army more than 60 years ago.

      Secondly you are right that Japan was in a way forced to modernize due to pressure from the Western powers, it’s subsequent expansion in the Mainland was however more a result of the new military strength acquired after Meji restoration and also Japan taking advantage of a weak and divided China. The aggression in China started long belong the all out Sino Japanese war in 1937 and by 1940 the war with China was in a stalemate and the US imposed embargo on Japan to pressure Japan to talk peace or to slow down Japan invasion. The embargo is always used by many to explain why Japan must start a war in the Pacific but really the real reason is japan invasion of China.

  • clayton

    You are right that Its the Abe type that I abhor