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What Will It Take to Stop Yasukuni Visits?
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By Gao Hong
As is well known, Japan's relations with its neighbors hit a brick wall from time to time owing to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Japan's war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals.

Voices from inside Japan are getting louder, urging Koizumi to stop visiting the shrine and handle relations with China and South Korea in a reasonable manner.

Koizumi alleges that he visits the shrine on a personal basis, and that this has nothing to do with diplomacy. Moreover, he has tried to drag the United States into the dispute, claiming that Washington has never criticized his Yasukuni Shrine visits.

Now comes a telling blow. Henry Hyde, chairman of the US House of Representatives International Relations Committee, in his letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, asked Koizumi to promise a stop to his visits to the shrine before addressing the US Congress in June.

Without this assurance, Koizumi's visit to Capitol Hill would dishonor the place where Franklin Roosevelt made his "day of infamy" speech after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, wrote Hyde.
For the generation that remembers Pearl Harbor, a visit by Koizumi to Yasukuni soon after a speech to the US Congress would be an affront, he said.

What lies behind Koizumi's shrine visits is the fact that Japan's political status in the world political arena does not match its economic power, which has been caused by Japan's historical legacy of aggression against other Asian nations before and during World War II.

Nobody wants to deny Japan the status of a normal country. But the Koizumi-fashioned road of forceful breakthrough leads in the wrong direction. Not a single Asian country that was overrun by Japanese imperial troops wishes to see Japan forever worn down by its historical liabilities. But in the face of a neighbor who refuses to repent for his past bad deeds and gets increasingly pushy, people cannot help but worry that Japan is treading on its old militarist road.

It is Koizumi's behavior that suggests that Japan is deviating from its post-war road of peaceful development and, therefore, makes Japan look increasingly abnormal.

True, the United States wants Japan to play a role in Asia akin to that played by the United Kingdom in other world political sectors. But this does not necessarily mean the US Government would tolerate behavior from Koizumi that greatly strains Japan's relations with its Asian neighbors, behavior that threatens to tip the strategic balance in Asia and, therefore, harms the interests of the United States.

Koizumi and his followers, however, will not easily give up their shrine visits despite the clear signal sent by Hyde. This is because visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are not merely a matter of "belief." They are also part of the strategy of realizing Japan's dream of becoming a major power.

This kind of extreme stubbornness at all diplomatic costs actually stems from an astute strategic calculation and, therefore, in my opinion, would not be given up easily.

Will Hyde's points go totally unheeded and become meaningless? This author believes that his words will have an impact in four respects.

First, Hyde has warned Koizumi over his rash behavior, which is based on a wrong historical outlook, on the eve of the latter's US visit.

In this context, it is easy to imagine that Koizumi would be unable to command the sympathy of the majority of his Capitol Hill audience, who are reluctant to see the excessive worsening of big-country relations in East Asia, if he harps on about Japan getting close to the United States at the expense of its relations with its Asian neighbors.

Second, the connection Hyde made in his letter between Franklin Roosevelt's "day of infamy" speech at Capitol Hill immediately after Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor and Koizumi's possible visit to the Yasukuni Shrine soon after he visits the US Congress has historical allusions.

Would this conjure up images of Japanese troops running amok in Asia and the Pacific? People are likely to ask if Japan would shed the "cloak of peace" it has been wearing since its defeat in World War II, given that Japan's status in the US-Japanese alliance is being continuously enhanced and it is gaining much more military room for maneuver around the world?

Third, any voice from US political circles will naturally be projected into the complex and sensitive Asian geopolitical sector.

Fourth, pluralistic choice on the part of the United States will indirectly impact the election of the leader of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party. This would help those Japanese politicians who want Japan's diplomatic activities to be undertaken in a more reasonable and rational manner.
In the final analysis, however, Asian issues are resolved by Asians. Outside forces cannot achieve solutions.

China, as an Asian country, should stick to its principles on such matters as the Japanese leader's shrine visits. This is in the long-term interests of all Asian countries, including Japan.

The author is a research fellow from the Institute of Japanese Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily May 31, 2006)


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