Yasukuni visits undermine diplomacy

Recent visits by three members of the Abe Cabinet to Yasukuni Shrine — which enshrines Japan’s some 2.5 million war dead plus convicted Class-A war criminals from World War II — show that they and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — who permitted them to go — place more importance on their own personal ideological desires than on creating a regional atmosphere that would maximize Japan’s ability to advance its national interests and achieve its foreign policy goals.

Internal affairs minister Mr. Yoshitaka Shindo visited Yasukuni on April 20 and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso and National Public Safety Commission Chairman Keiji Furuya on April 21. Although Mr. Abe did not visit the shrine, he made an offering of a masakaki tree branch, which is used in some Shinto rituals.

The blowback from the Yasukuni visits came immediately. South Korea canceled its foreign minister’s visit to Tokyo this week, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “As long as Japan does not face up to the history of its aggression, it cannot embrace the future and develop friendly relations with its Asian neighbors.”

Nonetheless, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga merely said that “the Cabinet should not impose restrictions” on individual Cabinet members with regard to “emotional issues.” This statement ignores the fact that Yasukuni visits are directly related to the controversy over how Japan perceives its past colonial rule and wars of aggression in the 1930s and ’40s, and demonstrates his utter lack of sensitivity to the feelings of the victim countries.

The Cabinet members’ behavior has wrecked, at least temporarily, any chances of deepening cooperation among Japan, China and South Korea to forge a united front to deal with North Korea’s belligerent provocations including threats of more rocket launches and nuclear weapons tests. It also makes the territorial disputes that Japan is embroiled in that much harder to resolve. In the wake of Beijing’s angry reaction, Mr. Masahiko Komura, LDP deputy president and head of the Japan-China Friendship Paliamentarians’ Union, canceled his planned visit to China in early May because bilateral ties have become too tense.

Unfortunately, the “village mentality” that damages Japan’s larger interests is not limited to a few Cabinet members. Despite the uproar caused by the Cabinet members’ actions, 168 lawmakers visited Yasukuni on April 23 — the highest figure since 1987.

During his first stint as prime minister in 2006-2007, Mr. Abe refrained from visiting Yasukuni. But he told the current Diet session that it was a “matter of the greatest regret” that he could not make the Yasukuni visit at that time, thus hinting that he may visit the shrine in the near future. If he does, Japan’s relationships with China and South Korea will suffer yet another blow.

Mr. Abe has also stated that he does not fully accept Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 statement in which he apologized to Asian countries for Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression” causing “tremendous damage and suffering” to their people. Mr. Abe would do well to remember that the Murayama statement helped historical wounds to further heal and increased international trust in Japan. Any weakening of the statement would reverse these gains, making it more difficult for Japan to advance its national interests in the region. Even its security partner, the United States, would view such a move as reckless and damaging because it would raise already high regional tensions.

  • Grabber

    Make no mistake. A ‘strong’ Japan means an Japan of aggression. This would’ve been something that could be said until Shinzo Abe’s and his LDP’s recent win at the election, and their promise to change the constitution to allow pre-emptive strikes and reinstall the emperor as the constitutional head of state.

    • Masa Chekov

      Pacifist Japan is not going to suddenly become expansionist and start invading neighboring countries. Be realistic here.

      Do you know ANY Japanese people who would support Japan waging an aggressive war?

      • Grabber

        The same thing was said in the 1930’s as Japan was actually a new democracy. What happened was the Imperial Navy sent junior officers to assassinate the elected government ministers and the courts refused to punish them. For the Glory of the Emperor. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_15_Incident

        That is the problem. The majority of regular Japanese people believe in democracy and peace, but back then the ones who actually acted were those who believed in Military-Dictatorial Nationalism. And enough people supported their actions.

        And now, today, the ones who are the most active are not the ones who believe in peace; it is the ultra-nationalists who resort to intimidation and violence to spread their message.

        It’s headed that way again. Japan isn’t alone in this, but just because other countries in Asia (and elsewhere in the world) are doing this doesn’t mean it’s okay!

      • Masa Chekov

        There’s no intimidation and violence in Japan. This is not the 1930s, it’s the 2010s. The world has changed, as has Japan, as has Japanese people.

        It’s not headed the way of the 1930s at all. The world in general is a much, much more peaceful place now.

      • Ken5745

        Not true. If Japan is not “headed the way of the 1930s at all” then :

        1. it should honor the agreement between Prime Minister Tanaka and Deng XiaoPing to postpone the decision on the Daioyu/Senkaku islands dispute to the wiser generation in the future and not embark on a charade to ‘nationalize’ them.

        2. then move the 14 Class A Japanese war criminals, interred at the Yasukuni shrine, to a private shrine.

        3. make an unequivocal apology by the Govt to China and Korea for the wartime aggression and atrocities.

      • Masa Chekov

        Ken, what you say has nothing to do with any supposed rising militarism of Japan.

        1) Go point your finger at Ishihara for that one. The national government was taking the “lesser of two evils” approach and preventing Ishihara from making the Senkakus part of Tokyo. Regardless, it didn’t change anything since they were Japanese in the first place (and please don’t start that discussion up again).

        2) Nope. That’s not up for discussion from foreign interests. That is a private matter for Yasukuni and it is not your or anyone else’s place to interfere with the practice of religion.

        3) That’s been done and accepted. The relationship between China/Korea and Japan would go a lot smoother if the ultranationalists in China/Korea would quit demanding apologies that have already been made and officially accepted.

  • antony

    Japan appears to be raising two fingers aloft in defiance to its Asian neighbors saying ‘we will not be intimidated regardless of our conduct’ while hiding behind the protection of the US.

  • Roan Suda

    When it comes to the expression of nationalism, there is clearly a double standard in this part of the world: one for the Chinese and the Koreans, who can bellow and posture as they wish, while the Japanese are expected to smile politely, except when groveling. Deep down inside, even the most timid, wimpy otaku type is yearning, it seems, to rampage through Asia, raping and killing, because, after all, he is marked by some sort of Japanese original sin…The editorial appears to assume that if Japan’s leaders play politically correct footsie with Japan’s neighbors, all will be peace and love, for beautiful life. Above all, Japan, we are told, must not offend the wise and benevolent Americans…Dream on…But surely Japan can reassert herself more effectively than with hyped-up visits to Yasukuni Shrine.