Despite much speculation, new Defense Minister Tomomi Inada is not expected to visit war-linked Yasukuni Shrine on Monday, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II, in an apparent effort to avoid offending Beijing and Seoul.
Inada has espoused revisionist views of Japan’s wartime history, and the two neighbors, past victims of Japan’s 20th century militarism, were alarmed by her appointment last month.
Inada did not explicitly say she would stay away; rather, it will be impossible for her to visit the Shinto facility, which is regarded as a symbol of Japan’s wartime militarism and honors Class-A war criminals such as Hideki Tojo along with Japan’s war dead.
The Defense Ministry said Friday that, starting Saturday, Inada will make a three-day visit to Djibouti, where the Air and Ground self-defense forces have set up a base to fight against piracy off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden since 2009.
Inada could have made it to Yasukuni on Friday, but she was at the ASDF’s Komatsu Base in Ishikawa Prefecture, too far away to visit before the 5 p.m. closing time.
This is the first time Inada is likely to forgo her annual Aug. 15 visit to the shrine since 2006, a year after she was elected to the Lower House from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Inada, viewed as a potential candidate for prime minister, has been a staunch proponent of legitimizing official visits to the religious site.
In a commentary published in the conservative magazine Seiron in 2012, Inada argued that the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal was unjust because the actions taken by the people later pronounced Class-A war criminals did not violate international laws at that time.
She also said the Constitution should be revised so that visits to Yasukuni by the prime minister “won’t be criticized as unconstitutional.”
Yet in her first interviews as defense minister, Inada declined to clarify whether she will continue making regular visits to the shrine. She called the matter private and emotional and said she would act appropriately as a member of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet.
Kyodo News on Friday reported that Abe will not visit the shrine on Monday. Instead, he will send a tamagushi (cash offering) paid from his own pocket, citing a source familiar with the matter.
Inada’s newfound aversion to visiting Yasukuni comes at a politically crucial juncture for Tokyo’s strained relationships with China and South Korea.
In a rare move, Beijing reportedly made an advance request that Cabinet ministers be discouraged from visiting Yasukuni on Aug. 15, and even specifically named Inada.
Tensions between Japan and China escalated further this month when a swarm of China Coast Guard vessels and private fishing boats entered the contiguous and territorial waters around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, despite sustained protests from Japan, which administers them. China and Taiwan claim the isles as Diaoyu and Tiaoyutai, respectively.
One of the Chinese trawlers collided with a Greek merchant ship on Thursday and its crew had to be rescued by the Japan Coast Guard.
In South Korea meanwhile, bilateral ties have improved since last year’s landmark agreement to resolve the long-running dispute over the “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for the females forced into Japan’s military brothels during the war.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said late Friday Tokyo and Seoul agreed as to how the ¥1 billion Japan pledged to give to a South Korean foundation set up for the survivors will be used. Still, Inada was heavily criticized in the South Korean press for claiming that the removal of a comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul was an important element for fulfilling the bilateral agreement.
Any misstep could cripple diplomatic progress at a time when cooperation among Japan, South Korea and the United States is critical to countering North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Tokyo and Seoul are also working to sign the once-botched General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA), which is essential to developing a ballistic missile defense against the North.
Mark Toner, the U.S. State Department’s deputy spokesman, tacitly warned Inada against visiting Yasukuni, emphasizing “the importance of approaching historical legacy issues in a manner that promotes healing and reconciliation.”
Another of Abe’s Cabinet ministers, Masahiro Imamura, reconstruction minister for disaster-hit regions, paid a visit to the war shrine on Thursday.
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