Newly appointed Defense Minister Tomomi Inada on Thursday refused to clarify her position on sensitive historical issues, insisting she is “not in a position” to express her views on Japan’s wars against China and the Allied powers in the 1930s and ’40s.
She also declined to clarify during a group interview and at separate news conferences whether she will continue her regular visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, saying it is a private, emotional matter. Yasukuni is often regarded as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism.
During Thursday’s news conference, she was asked repeatedly if she believes Japan fought a war of aggression or self-defense during World War II. Many right-wing Japanese argue it was the latter, which has irked China and South Korea and caused diplomatic rows with other Asian neighbors.
“I’m not in a position to express my personal opinion here,” Inada said.
Inada did say, however, that whether it was a war of aggression or not “is a matter of assessment, not a matter of objective facts.”
“I believe it is objective facts that matter most,” she said.
She added that only Prime Minister Shinzo Abe or Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga can express the government’s official views on such issues.
Inada is widely regarded as a revisionist because she has expressed doubts in the past over the legitimacy of the postwar 1946 International Military Tribunal for the Far East, better known as the Tokyo Tribunal.
During her first news conference as defense minister on Wednesday night, she was asked if she will continue her regular visits to the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine. She declined to answer, reiterating that the matter is a private and emotional one.
“I have answered this question many times. This is a personal matter close to my heart, and I don’t think I should say I will or I won’t, or I should or I shouldn’t,” Inada said on Wednesday.
“As a member of the Cabinet of Prime Minister Abe, I will make an appropriate decision,” she said at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Until Wednesday, Inada had served as the policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Her repeated visits to Yasukuni drew criticism from Japan’s neighbors.
Abe, too, used to visit Yasukuni before his second stint as prime minister that started in December 2012.
Abe visited the shrine once in December 2013, but then ceased such visits, as they drew strong criticism from China, South Korea and even the United States.
Meanwhile, in a 2011 interview with a monthly magazine, Inada argued that Japan should consider arming itself with nuclear weapons.
Asked about the interview, Inada said Wednesday that she did not believe Japan should possess nuclear weapons at this point.
“It would also depend on future situations, but at this moment (Japan) should not consider arming itself with nuclear weapons,” she said.
She pointed out that Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution had been interpreted to allow the country to have “the minimum necessary” in terms of self-defense capability.
Given the current constitutional framework, Japan should not consider a nuclear option now, Inada said.
Inada also said she believed Japan should promote defense talks with China and South Korea to ensure the security of Japan as well as that of the whole of East Asia.
“Given the current situation in East Asia, we need to closely cooperate with South Korea,” Inada said.
“It’s very important to have talks with China on various levels, too,” she added.
Earlier in the day, North Korea fired a ballistic missile, which landed in the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone off Akita Prefecture for the first time.
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