On August 13, two days earlier than the planned date of August 15, the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender, Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine despite the strong objections of other Asian countries such as China and South Korea. Though Koizumi’s visit date may have been shifted to avoid the sensitive anniversary day, this move did little to ease the indignation of Japan’s Asian neighbors. Instead, his visit hurt the feelings of other Asian people and will harm Japan’s diplomatic relations with its Asian neighbors.
Before his visit, Koizumi admitted that “Japan did wrong to its Asian neighbors.” He called Japan’s involvement in the World War II era “the regretful history of my country.” And he promised that “Japan will never again walk the path of war.”
But if this is so, then his visit to pay “respects” to the dead, many of whom died as aggressors, is puzzling. Koizumi’s actions do not match his words, leading to doubt about the sincerity of both his actions and his words.
Koizumi may have shifted the date of visit to appease Japan’s neighboring countries, but he should have realized that a Japanese prime minister’s visit to a war shrine, whether on the sensitive August 15 anniversary day or on any other day, will always hurt the feelings of other Asian people. Koizumi’s visit to the war shrine will have a harmful impact at home and abroad.
Koizumi’s action will further anger both China and South Korea, two important countries to Japan’s international relations, with whom relations have deteriorated following the publication in Japan of history textbooks that play down Japan’s wartime atrocities.
South Korea suspended cultural and military exchanges to protest the textbook. Its congress also passed a resolution seeking to prevent Japan from entering the Security Council of the United Nations.
With Koizumi’s war shrine visit, both the South Korea and its people could not be more outraged. Twenty young South Korean men chopped off their little fingers on Monday in a macabre public protest hours before Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the Tokyo shrine to war dead.
China and Japan have experienced tensions over the history textbook, Lee Teng-hui's visit and Japan’s ban on Chinese farm products. Relations with China had been expected to improve after April when Koizumi succeeded Mori Yoshiro, the former prime minister. But Koizumi’s action undoubtedly will cast a shadow over bilateral relations, even over his visit to China in October for the Asia-Pacific Economic Organization (APEC) summit.
Koizumi’s visit also will cause difficulties at home in Japan. In the cabinet, in the LDP and in other parties, members voiced strong objections or tried to prevent his visit. Makiko Tanaka, Koizumi’s foreign minister, with secretaries-general of the other three coalition parties tried to persuade the prime minister to act cautiously. But Koizumi risked all just to fulfil a pledge during his bid for the leadership in April to make an official visit to the shrine. His willfulness at the cost of “diplomatic interests” will cause him to lose the credibility with the public and jeopardize his leadership.
(The author is a research fellow with the Institute of Contemporary International Relations.)
(China.org.cn Translated by Xiaowei 08/15/2001)