Japan PM ignored Washington to visit shrine, U.S. official says


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday after the United States urged him not to do so, prompting Washington to use harsher than normal language in criticizing him, a U.S. official said.

Another U.S. official blasted Abe for visiting the controversial shrine, which honors war criminals among Japan’s war dead, saying he rendered recent U.S. efforts to help Japan mend its fences with China and South Korea “useless.”

The Obama administration repeatedly asked Abe through informal channels not to visit the Tokyo shrine, knowing it would draw strong reactions from Beijing and Seoul, and worrying it would develop into a major international problem, the first U.S. official said.

There had been rumors circulating since earlier this year that Abe would visit Yasukuni before the end of December.

Countries such as China and South Korea that suffered under Japan before and during World War II have asked Japanese leaders to refrain from visiting the Shinto shrine.

Washington was informed of Abe’s plan to go to Yasukuni about an hour ahead of time through the embassy in Tokyo, the first U.S. official said.

The U.S. government issued a statement from the embassy soon after the visit saying that “the United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.”

The U.S. first considered expressing “regret” or “concern” in the statement, but the stronger language was chosen through prior consultation between the White House and the State Department, the official said.

The second U.S. official said the visit will have a “negative impact” on relations between the United States and Japan, especially after Vice President Joe Biden visited Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul earlier this month.

Biden met Abe, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye and urged each one to make efforts to enhance dialogue and improve relations.

“The (Yasukuni) visit made it useless,” the official said, referring to Biden’s efforts, as well as the efforts by others in the U.S. government to ease tensions in the region.

Relations between Japan and China, and Japan and South Korea, have been strained due to the long-running territorial disputes and interpretation of regional history before and during the war.

Abe is now the first prime minister to visit Yasukuni since Junichiro Koizumi, who did so every year during his tenure from 2001 to 2006.

Each visit hurt relations between Japan and China and South Korea, a White House official said.

Abe said he visited the shrine to renew his resolve to make sure Japan will not engage in war again and create a world free of war.

  • Mohanarao

    Just wondering. Do the Germans honor the soldiers who died during WW2? If they do why no protest?

    • The difference is that Germans don’t honour Hitler or the other ruthless generals.

      The Japanese on the other hand also honour their generals, the ones who ordered the executions. Obviously the Chinese and Koreans aren’t happy about this as it is seen as glorifying the atrocities committed in WW2.

    • JimmyJM

      I don’t believe the Germans have any special memorials for their WWII soldiers but I’m not sure. Yasukuni is a shrine to all Japanese who died in all the wars. That would include the civilians who died in the fire raids and atomic bombings of WWII. Out of the more than two million people enshrined there, 14 of them are convicted war criminals. You would think the 14 could be moved to another shrine elsewhere so respects could be paid to the remainder without irritating Japan’s neighbors. Japanese officials are trying to compare Abe’s visit to Yasukuni as akin to the U.S. Presidents visits to Arlington. But there is no comparison. Arlington is a national memorial to U.S. military who were (for the most part) killed in battle. Most of the 2 million in Yasukuni are civilians.

    • Han Man Woong

      Germans don’t honor war criminals.. They denounced them and are not enshrined in some cathedral. Why are Japanese war criminals enshrined? Why don’t the ministers who go there ever denounce their criminals’ past acts? They would rather cower in shame and try to hide them, where Germans bravely faced their horrific past and are even today repenting. This is why the French, British, hungarians, and all others can forgive them. If you want forgiveness, you apologize, and you also show it with acts of repenting, not by apologizing then complaining that you have already done so, then try to bend facts denying wrongdoing, and then give your blessing to the very people who caused all the pain.

      I find it very disturbing that you would compare Japan’s efforts with German’s, because they are totally different in essence.

  • fuhrer

    Japan should protest whenever the Middle Kingdom politicians visit Mao- the war criminal memorials. Also when Uncle Sam politicians visit their WWI I memorials. Japan’s neighbors and US have no right to comment on Japan’s internal matters.

  • Mera Desh

    This is a right step. Japan should handle its foreign policy independently. It should change its constitution and develop its own military. Japan should free itself from American umbrella and should rise in its own. Japan’s rise is very important in Asia as China is becoming assertive. We need a stronger Japan for power balance in Asia.

  • Brad Arnold

    Right now China is still developing it’s economy, but soon Japan will be completely supplanted as Asia’s dominate economy. Yeah, PM Abe can visit the shrine, and have amnesia concerning Japanese wartime atrocities, but in the near future such shameless domestic pandering will have dire economic consequences for Japan. Frankly, I think that such dredged up inflammatory memories from the past are unproductive, but never the less they are a significant political reality in Asia.

    By the way, I do think that China and South Korea have a valid point: Japan never adequately acknowledged their wartime atrocities, and I do believe that that reflects a genuine denial of reality, which also implies a false sense of national (and racial) identity. Such a thing ought not be allowed to persist, under penalty of international shunning. If Japan is denied trade and normal political relations with China and South Korea, they will suffer more each year – maybe that will change their strong denial of the past.

  • clayton

    14 infamous war criminals are enshrined at Yasukini Shrine. Because of this, Japanese Emperor does not visit Yasukini Shrine.