Nationalism is “absolutely not” on the rise and Japan remains committed to peace almost 70 years after its defeat in World War II, said Vice Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe’s December visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which is seen by many in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past aggression, prompted the U.S. to express disappointment with its main ally in Asia.
Comments by Abe’s associates playing down wartime atrocities by Imperial Japanese forces have also led to criticism, with The New York Times saying in an editorial March 2 that Abe’s nationalism threatens ties with the U.S. as well as other nations in the region.
“Such suggestions are absolutely not right,” Kishi said in an interview Friday at the Foreign Ministry. “For 68 years since the war, our country has made contributions to international society as a nation that strives for peace.”
That won’t change under the Abe administration, he said.
Anger at Japan’s perceived ambivalence over its invasion and occupation of large parts of Asia in the first half of the 20th century has further soured already difficult relations with China and South Korea.
While the U.S. has urged Japan to engage with its neighbors, Abe has not held a summit with either country since taking office in December 2012.
“I am aware there are various criticisms of Japan, and if there are misunderstandings I want to explain so as to resolve them,” Kishi said.
He reiterated that Abe’s assertion that his visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class A war criminals alongside the nation’s war dead, was intended to pray for lasting peace. Abe was the first sitting prime minister to go to the shrine since 2006.
Disagreements over history have not affected Japan’s overall relationship with the U.S., Kishi said.
“When talking about U.S.-Japan relations, you need to look at the whole picture,” he said. “I think you can say strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance is at the top of the list of the things the Abe administration has done.”
Kishi, 54, declined comment on the plan for Abe to hold a meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit Monday and Tuesday in The Hague. The three-way summit had not yet been confirmed when Kishi was interviewed.