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Yasukuni Visits Are Alienating Japan

Rome was not built in a day. It was not demolished in a day either.

Whoever starts the trouble should face up to it squarely and settle it.

Japan refuses to do so. What is more, the words from its prime minister and foreign minister have chilled the country's relations with its neighbors to the bone.

China has turned down bilateral talks with Japan at the sidelines of a meeting of Asian leaders in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia later this month. The Republic of Korea (ROK) is reportedly not going to hold such talks with Japan either.

The biggest stumbling block to Japan's sour relations with China and the ROK is the Yasukuni Shrine.
The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in the attitude towards them.

Japanese leaders have made their neighbors abundantly clear about their attitude.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Wednesday that the issue of Yasukuni is not an international one.

He is oblivious to criticism from other Asian countries about his visits to the Shrine.

At his summit with ROK President Roh Moo-hyun, Koizumi made references to Japan's relationship with the ROK and China, adding there was "nothing to worry about."

He added his own wishful thinking that his Yasukuni visits should not impede economic and other exchanges between his country and its neighbors.

The prime minister cannot get his Yasukuni pilgrimage, which has iced his Asia diplomacy, out of his mind.

He felt wronged when receiving criticism from China, the ROK and people in his own country. He said he has the "right to freedom of spirit."

Koizumi has blurred the line between the right to freedom of spirit and his country's attitude and responsibility in dealing with an ugly and indelible past.

Both China and the ROK have made it clear that Japanese politicians' Yasukuni visits are not bearable and have turned out to be a thorn in bilateral relations.

No thaw is visible if Japanese leaders keep paying homage to the controversial shrine.

The politicians in Japan know it well. Since Koizumi took office in 2001, Japan has faced diplomatic spats with China and the ROK over his visits to Yasukuni Shrine. On October 17, Koizumi made his fifth Yasukuni visit as prime minister, as Japan's relations with the two neighbors soured.

Koizumi's failure to bridge gaps with China and the ROK at the recently concluded Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum was an obvious consequence of Japan's Asia diplomacy.

No meetings between Japan and the two neighbors are expected at the upcoming ASEAN summit.

The summit is a test of Asian countries' abilities to improve co-operation within the region. The chilly wind from Tokyo could poison the meeting and sabotage this effort.

It is understandable that Japan pays no heed to its neighbors while enjoying a strong alliance with the United States. Koizumi's diplomatic priority, in fact, remains firmly fixed on strengthening Japan-US ties.

Koizumi says that as long as ties between his country and the United States remain good, Japan will build favorable relations with China and the ROK.

Koizumi may well have drawn support from Japanese voters, who favored the LDP he heads in the September general election.

If Koizumi is emboldened by the support and makes more visits to the shrine, Japan will surely alienate itself in Asia.

The issue of Yasukuni is not a test of will, but a matter of principle.

Yasukuni visits by Japanese politicians including the prime minister are not understood today and will never be in the future. Time will not settle the issue. Japan, which ties the knot in its relations with neighbors, knows well how to untie it.

(China Daily December 2, 2005)


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Koizumi Should Learn to Be a Mature Leader
No Excuse for Koizumi's Shrine Visits
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China Postpones Japanese FM's Trip
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