In a video posted to YouTube, a special adviser to Shinzo Abe takes the U.S. government to task for not supporting the prime minister’s decision to visit Yasukuni Shrine in December, saying Washington “doesn’t make much of Japan.”
However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga hurriedly denied that the aide was expressing the government’s view.
Shortly after Abe’s visit to the controversial war-linked shrine on Dec. 26, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo released an unusually critical statement, saying the visit “disappointed” Washington and would “exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.”
But, in the video uploaded Tuesday, long-time Abe ally Seiichi Eto charges “it is our side that was disappointed” with Washington’s attitude.
Eto’s remarks could strain relations with the U.S., Japan’s only military ally, and the nation around which Abe has centered his diplomatic policies.
Senior U.S. officials reportedly urged Abe to avoid Yasukuni, fearing going there would further erode ties with China and South Korea.
Suga emphasized Wednesday that Eto’s comments, first reported by the Mainichi Shimbun, are “his personal views,” and not those of the government.
“That’s not the view of the Japanese government,” Suga said at a daily press conference. “I’d like to make that clear.”
Suga later telephoned Eto, urging him to retract the remarks regarding the Yasukuni issues. Eto accepted the instruction and deleted the original video file from YouTube, Suga said.
In the 13-minute video, Eto alleges the U.S. released the statement to cater to China, not, in fact, to caution Japan.
“The U.S. now finds it increasingly hard to say something clearly” that could rile China, Eto said.
He also reveals in the video that he visited the U.S. on Nov. 20 to meet with senior officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, to request Washington’s “understanding” of Abe’s intention to visit Yasukuni Shrine.
In December, Eto then visited the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to say that Abe would probably “make the decision” to go to Yasukuni, he said.
“I told (the U.S. side) we’d like (Washington) to express support if (Abe visits). If it’s impossible, we’d like (the U.S.) not to oppose (the visit), we told them,” Eto said.
When the U.S. refused to comply, and went so far as to issue its “disappointed” comment, it caused a stir in Japan and fueled criticism of Abe.
In the video, Eto contends the war criminals enshrined at Yasukuni were ordered executed by the postwar Tokyo Tribunal and thus “died in the line of duty” to the state. The shrine, he says, is not glorifying them as heroes.
“It is a matter of course to pray for peace and pledge not to fight a war again” by visiting Yasukuni, Eto says.
According to sources, Eto was one of the aides close to Abe who urged him to visit Yasukuni to appease core supporters who share his nationalist sentiments.
At the same time, at least two key aides at the prime minister’s office urged Abe not to go, fearing the diplomatic repercussions, according to the sources.
“(Abe) didn’t turn to me for advice. He didn’t tell me (in advance) because he knew I would just have opposed” his going to Yasukuni, one of those aides said.
“I think the prime minister made the decision all by himself,” the official said.