In a major U-turn, new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Friday that neither he nor any of his Cabinet ministers will make official visits to controversial Yasukuni Shrine, reversing his previous position that visits by national leaders should be not be considered problematic.
During his first news conference as prime minister, Noda also said he would try to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power, but pledged to restart reactors undergoing regular checks after they pass two-stage stress tests.
“The prime minister and Cabinet ministers will continue the policy of previous Cabinets and refrain from making official visits” to Yasukuni Shrine, Noda said.
“I know that there are various opinions (about the war-related shrine), but I think it is necessary not to make official visits when taking international diplomacy into account,” he said.
Noda has stated that the honor of the Class-A war criminals from the warfare in the 1930s and ’40s, many of whom are enshrined at the Shinto shine, along with the war dead, has been legally recovered and there was no merit in asking a national leader not to visit the shrine.
But now that he is prime minister, Noda has apparently decided not to trigger diplomatic friction with China, South Korea and other parts of Asia that view the shrine as a symbol of Japan’s military aggression and are highly sensitive to visits by prime ministers and Cabinet members.
While stressing that the Japan-U.S. alliance remains vital for peace and prosperity in the region, Noda said he would make utmost efforts to “develop good relations” with neighboring countries.
The biggest challenges facing Noda and his Cabinet are bringing the crippled Fukushima No. 1 plant under control and rebuilding the Tohoku region from the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Noda stated that he will not dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election in the near future, saying his administration must prioritize the reconstruction of disaster-hit areas.
“Reconstruction is not something that will be settled by year’s end. In the current situation we can not risk creating a political vacuum,” he said.
One of the first things Noda and his government must do is draft the third extra budget for fiscal 2011, which would finance crucial reconstruction projects.
Noda said that while wasteful government expenditures must be eliminated, discussions should be held on how to finance the rebuilding of the shattered northeast, including the possibility of raising taxes for a limited time period.
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Naoto Kan, Noda stressed the need to wean the nation off nuclear power in light of the Fukushima meltdown disaster, the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.
But the prime minister also said that out of the 41 reactors that are currently halted, his government would reactivate those that pass the stress tests.
“Realistically speaking, I think it would be difficult to build new reactors and those that are judged to be too old will be decommissioned,” Noda said.
“In the meantime, I think it is necessary to prepare to restart reactors that have passed the safety tests, and we must make special efforts to seek the understanding of local residents.”
Genba worries South
South Korean media expressed concern Friday over the appointment of new Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba, who is little known overseas.
The Yonhap news agency was critical of Genba’s appointment, saying his stance had been “negative” toward a statement issued last year by former Prime Minster Naoto Kan on the occasion of the centenary of Japan’s annexation of the Korean Peninsula.
In the statement, Kan apologized to South Korea and expressed deep regret over the suffering Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule inflicted on the peninsula.
Commenting on Japan’s sixth new prime minister in five years, a government official in Seoul said, “We hope Japanese politics will be stabilized and bilateral cooperation strengthened in a future-oriented manner.”