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Koizumi's Second Visit to Yasukuni Shrine: An Anaylysis
On April 21 when he revisited Yasukuni Shrine that honors Class-A World War II war criminals, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi set an odious precedent: He became the first sitting Japanese Prime Minister to pay homage to the controversial shrine twice since the mid-1980s. Koizumi's blatant act gave the green light to 88 Japanese congressmen on April 23 to swarm into the shrine. Just half a year ago, during his China tour Koizumi admitted Japan was responsible for the aggression, and offered a sincere apology to the Chinese people who suffered. Then why did he insist on revisiting the shrine, regardless of his own pledges as well as strong oppositions from other Asian countries?

Firstly, Koizumi's true intention to do homage to the shrine lies in maintaining his political power. As the prime minister-elect last year, Koizumi was not an influential party leader but profited mainly from his image as a statesman determined to carry out reform as well as from the Japanese people's eagerness for change. Nearly a year has passed since he took office. Disappointingly, on the one hand, Koizumi's reforms have not produced any marked effects, and the Japanese economy remains in the doldrums; on the other, political scandals have cropped up one after another, seriously shaking up Koizumi's cabinet. In January, Koizumi gave the axe to his Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka who had been particularly helpful in his election. Tsutomu Takebe, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, has been widely condemned for his inappropriate handling of the mad cow disease situation. On April 22, President Yutaka Inoue of the House of Councilors was forced to resign because of a bribery case involving his secretary.

As a result of the economic slump and a whole series of political scandals, Koizumi's approval rating plummeted from above 80 percent to a little over 40 percent. Koizumi's government is hanging by a thread. Therefore, Koizumi expected his second visit to Yasukuni Shrine to cater to the wishes of conservative forces that hold sway within his party as well as the wishes of the right-wingers so as to strengthen his weak power base.

Secondly, Koizumi's revisiting Yasukuni Shrine reflects a recent conservative trend in Japanese society. After World War II, acting in its own interests, the United States did not root out militarism in Japan. Some sentenced war criminals were set free and then proceeded to regain power. These militarists' political influences have lasted to this day. Consequently, although most Japanese people advocate a correct attitude towards history, erroneous conceptions of history still flood Japanese society. Since the mid-1980s, the voices of those who want to break the confines of history and turn Japan into a political superpower have become more and more powerful. Furthermore, continuous economic recession since the mid-1990s gave incentive to the rise of a nationalist current in Japan. In this political background, Koizumi has planned to get the support of conservative forces and win over at least eight million votes by revisiting Yasukuni Shrine.

Thirdly, Koizumi's blatant act shows the Japanese government's diplomatic shortsightedness and vacillation on the question of history. In the new century, Japan is confronted with political and economic transformation. On the one hand, it is necessary for Japan to keep good relations with other Asian countries. On the other hand, the heavy historical burden has made the Japanese government indecisive in terms of policy-making. Both China and South Korea are Japan's major neighbors with whom close political and economic contacts have been maintained. As this year witnesses both the 30th anniversary of the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations as well as the co-hosting of the 2002 World Cup by Japan and South Korea, Koizumi does not want the relationship with China and South Korea to be seriously damaged. Therefore, by describing his surprise visit to Yasukuni Shrine on April 21 as differentiating ordinary soldiers killed in action from Class-A war criminals, Koizumi has hoped to reduce the indignation of China and South Korea to as small a degree as possible.

Koizumi's self-deception reconfirms the Japanese government's inconsistency on the question of history. It has been pointed out by insightful people that to get rid of the historical shadow and realize its political and diplomatic transformation, Japan must take a clear-cut stand on its past aggression and have a correct understanding of history, giving up any unwise illusions to whitewash history. As an ancient Chinese proverb goes, he who is not true to his own word deserves to be betrayed by others. Koizumi's revisiting Yasukuni Shrine for the moment was cheered by the right-wing forces, but in the long run it will definitely exert an adverse influence on the thrust of Japan's political policy and diplomatic relations.

(The author is People's Daily resident correspondent in Japan)

(人民网[People's Daily], translated by Shao Da for china.org.cn, April 28, 2002)

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