Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 13, backtracking on his vow to make the visit Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. Although he signed his name and title in the visitors’ register, Koizumi would not say whether his visit to the shrine for the war dead was official or private.
I was disappointed with his decision. I had hoped he would reject foreign interference in domestic affairs and end, once and for all, a 20-year-old diplomatic abnormality. However, since Koizumi’s Yasukuni visit is now “fait accompli,” the government should weigh the merits and demerits and formulate future strategies accordingly.
A positive aspect of the affair was that Japan won a 60 percent victory in the dispute. Japan’s 16th-century strategist Takeda Shingen used to say he favored a 60 percent or 70 percent win in battles. He said an 80 percent victory was dangerous and 90 percent victory was likely to be a forerunner of a disastrous defeat.
Koizumi’s decision to sidestep the Aug. 15 anniversary was a face-saving compromise aimed at appeasing his critics. He should now move ahead, using the momentum from his 60 percent victory. The three ruling parties — the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — are likely to tolerate Koizumi’s future visits to the shrine, except on Aug. 15. He could then attend the shrine’s annual memorial services in the spring and autumn. He may face more protests, but if he continues to strengthen his power base, he will have no problem in visiting the shrine.
Koizumi should try to avoid, by all means, leaving the impression that he gave in to pressure from critics. That would embolden them. Instead of trying to appease his detractors, he should try to encourage his LDP supporters to consolidate their strength through his victory.
A negative aspect of the visit was that Japan suffered another setback in its disputes with foreign countries. Japan has been involved in international disputes over history textbooks since 1982 and over prime ministers’ visits to Yasukuni since 1985. Government officials deny Koizumi succumbed to foreign pressure in sidestepping the war-end anniversary. That’s an outright lie. Koizumi’s remarks and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda’s statement on the issue clearly show that without pressure from China and South Korea, Koizumi would not have changed the date of the Yasukuni visit.
China and South Korea should not be blamed for the turmoil. Past diplomatic disputes have occurred between Japan and the two countries after Japanese leftists furnished information on what was happening in Japan and induced the countries to issue negative comments. Some Japanese media then played up the comments. At times, officials in Beijing and Seoul have indicated reluctance to comment on the issue. In the early 1980s, Yasukuni was a dead issue for Chinese, South Korean, Western and Japanese media and commentators.
Yasukuni was revived as a diplomatic issue in an unprecedented chain of events. In my opinion, Japanese leftists of the 1960s and 1970s who went underground after suffering a devastating setback in their protest movement against the Japan-U.S. security system have successfully used foreign interference as leverage for their activities. Some of the former student radicals, now in their 50s, have increasing influence in the media. Like the recent antiglobalization protesters in Seattle and Genoa, the leaders of these 1960s-era student radicals can’t give convincing answers as to why they do what they do. They probably resist power simply because it’s there.
Dispute settlements won’t come until the Japanese public’s consciousness changes. The disputes, which originated in Japan, will go away once their root causes are removed. As long as forces in Japan abet and take advantage of Chinese interference, though, China will use them to its diplomatic advantage. If, however, most Japanese were to protest against Chinese interference in domestic affairs, China would stop its intervention.
China conducts diplomacy for the benefit of its people. Beijing would abandon diplomacy that infuriated Japanese and did not serve China’s interests. Signs have appeared in the past few years that a settlement is forthcoming. Recent public-opinion polls in Japan show that most respondents resent Chinese protests.
Although changes in public opinion are difficult to predict, settlement of disputes based on public opinion will lead to a long-term, final solution. The government should not lose sight of this fact and should not be swayed by short-term turmoil. After all, consistency in policy is all-important.