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Koizumi Should Learn to Be a Mature Leader

Frankly speaking, the Yasukuni visit by the Japanese prime minister is a tedious topic. It comes up every year triggering protests and comments. From the perspective of a newsman, it definitely is not exciting news.


But this time, Junichiro Koizumi did say something intriguing.


After paying homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, Koizumi complained with a seemingly innocent tone: "It is only a matter of personal belief. I simply don't understand why other countries should always interfere with it."


Koizumi sounded like a child being wronged. But he is not a child. Instead, he is a statesman and the government head of a major power in the world. I simply cannot believe the Japanese prime minister uttered something so childish.


What Koizumi visited on Monday last week was not the backyard garden in his home but a public place -- and a particular rendezvous with strong political implications. It is common sense that any move taken by a public servant in a public place is by no means a purely "personal" affair. Government officials as household names are usually cautious about their words and manners when appearing in public places, especially at so sensitive a venue as the Yasukuni Shrine, where widely hated war criminals are enshrined.


Yet Koizumi seemed so naive as to think that other visitors at the scene last Monday would forget his capacity and pay no heed to him.


Without any doubt his behavior would be interpreted by the public as the attitude of a top government official rather than an ordinary citizen. And the political message conveyed by such an attitude is beyond any explanation.


However, one would be wrong if one thinks that Koizumi really wants the public to take his shrine visit as merely an expression of pure "personal feeling" irrespective of his capacity as a statesman.


He may most likely have wished -- in his inner mind -- all Japanese nationals had seen what he meant. He wants to appear as a political strongman who defies pressure from the international community concerning the controversy over the visit to Yasukuni by Japanese politicians. He wants to woo Japan's rightists.


In recent years, a rightist and nationalist sentiment has been lurching in Japanese society and is growing stronger. That is the result of the following: The economic slowing down for many years versus the steady economic growth in China and South Korea; the repeated urging from the two countries for Japan to sincerely apologize for the harm it brought to Asian neighbors during World War II; the failure of the country's bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. All these factors constituted a kind of blow to Japanese national pride. Therefore some sort of frustration is fermenting among Japanese people.


Rightist forces in the country found encouragement from this sentiment and became more unscrupulous in their attempt to resurrect militarism. The Yasukuni Shrine is the right place to accommodate such activities. Koizumi's five visits to the place undoubtedly abetted this dangerous tendency.


That tendency has caused serious concern among Chinese and Korean people. Chinese people are particularly irritated by the recent provocative moves taken by Japanese rightists with regard to the Diaoyu Islands and the gas field exploration in the East China Sea.


A sentiment of distrust against Japan seems to have built up among a fairly large part of the Chinese people. A phenomenon worth attention is that most of those with a strong anti-Japanese mood are not the older generation but those who were born in the 1980s, when China and Japan were in a honeymoon of mutual friendship.


In fact, more than half of Japanese people disagree with Koizumi's visit to the shrine, according to surveys. Among the other half, I believe, a fairly large number would not wish to see relations with China and South Korea deteriorate.


China is now Japan's largest trade partner. One can easily imagine what the impact would be on the Japanese economy if the economic ties with China, which now accounts for 20.1 percent of Japan's foreign trade volume, become soured.


Common people may be susceptible to sentiment changes. But a statesman should not be easily influenced by such fluctuation. He should refrain from the urge to make use of common people's immaturity to attain his own political goals.


Koizumi should not forget his responsibility to his nation and people. He should also learn to be more mature as a statesman and a world leader.


(China Daily October 26, 2005)


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