Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left for The Hague on Sunday morning to attend a nuclear security summit, on the sidelines of which he expects to huddle with U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
The meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, the second day of the two-day summit, is the first opportunity for the Japanese and South Korean leaders to have official talks since they assumed their posts more than a year ago.
During his stay in The Hague, Abe will also attend a summit of the Group of Seven major countries for discussions on the Ukrainian situation following Russia’s decision to annex Crimea. The G-7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
Abe told reporters at Haneda airport: “We can never tolerate any attempt to change the status quo on the back of a threat of force. Japan will support Ukraine in cooperation with the international community.”
Still, Abe added, “Japan will try to communicate well with Russia while keeping in close contact with our G-7 colleagues,” indicating his intention to maintain his relationship of trust with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ahead of the tripartite summit and the G-7 meeting, Abe was scheduled to visit the Anne Frank House museum in Amsterdam on Sunday to highlight Japan’s friendship with the Jewish people.
The Anne Frank House, where the German-born Jewish girl kept a diary of her life in hiding before she was discovered and sent to a Nazi concentration camp, where she died, is now one of Europe’s best-known memorials to the victims of the Holocaust, drawing more than a million visitors per year.
“On this visit (to the Anne Frank House), we would like to reiterate the lasting and profound friendship between Japan and the Jewish people around the world,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.Asked whether there was a difference between visiting a memorial to Japanese soldiers at home and a memorial to war victims abroad, the spokesman said “there is no contradiction.”
Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Yasukuni enraged Asian neighbors who view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s wartime aggression, as it honors convicted war criminals.
The spokesman said Yasukuni Shrine enshrines 2.46 million souls who died for their country during conflicts since 1853, including both world wars, and that at the time of the visit, Abe issued a pledge that Japan must never wage a war again.
“Acknowledging historical issues in an open manner and passing down the lessons of history to future generations is the first step to pursuing peace,” he said.
Abe will be the most prominent world leader to visit the Anne Frank house since Israeli President Shimon Peres, former German President Christian Wulff and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
“Abe seems more sensitive to Western criticisms of his revisionism than those coming from China or Korea, and in particular of the Jewish American community as represented by the Simon Wiesenthal Center,” Sophia University professor Koichi Nakano told Reuters in an email.
He added that Abe’s planned visit to the Anne Frank house appears to reflect his desire to send a message to reassure U.S. policymakers, more than anyone else.
An official at the Anne Frank House museum said the story of the young diarist is well known in Japan and more than 33,000 Japanese tourists visited the house last year.
The Abe visit to the house comes after a series of incidents in recent months in Japan in which Anne Frank diaries were vandalized in public libraries. A suspect has been arrested.
A government official told reporters last week that there is no direct link between these incidents and Abe’s visit, but said Abe wants to convey the message that many Japanese people are pained by the vandalism.
Before his departure from Haneda, meanwhile, Abe said he hopes the trilateral summit with Seoul and Washington will serve as “a first step toward a future-oriented Japan-South Korea relationship.”
“I want to have frank discussions (with Park and Obama) on the situation in East Asia and security issues,” he added.
Abe took office in December 2012 and Park in February 2013, but they have since been unable to hold a formal meeting as the two countries’ relations have been strained due to history and territorial issues.
Analyst Tobias Harris at political risk consultancy Teneo Intelligence said the meeting will focus on North Korea and is not expected to address the history and territorial issues that have plagued the Japan-South Korea relationship in recent years.
But he added that the ill will generated by Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine in December remains an obstacle to closer cooperation.
Yasukuni played a key role in the wartime state Shinto religion, which mobilized the population to fight in the name of a divine emperor. China and South Korea, which both have been occupied by Japan, have repeatedly criticized visits by Japanese leaders to the shrine.
The United States, which is concerned about the situation, is believed to have brokered between the two Asian countries and arranged the three-way summit to create an opportunity for their leaders to meet. Abe, Obama and Park are expected to confirm the three countries’ cooperation in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Abe will return home Wednesday afternoon.