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Koizumi spurns calls to avoid a war shrine

Visit by Japan’s leader draws neighbors’ protests

Aug 15,2006
Honoring a five-year-old campaign promise and defying China and the Koreas, Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid homage to Japanese war dead yesterday morning at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
Mr. Koizumi had promised to visit the shrine annually, but until now had avoiding making the trip on the day of Japan’s surrender in World War II, which Korea celebrates as Liberation Day. No Japanese prime minister has been to the shrine on Aug. 15 since 1985, when Yasuhiro Nakasone went there on that day. The site is controversial because in the late 1970s, 14 wartime senior officials designated as Class A war criminals were added to the rolls of kami (deities) honored there.
As on his five previous visits, Mr. Koizumi insisted he had visited the shrine in a personal capacity, and defended his decision to go there on this significant date.
”Even if I avoided Aug. 15, there are always some forces and some people who criticize me and try to bring up this issue. As the difference is the same no matter when I go, I think today is an appropriate day,” Mr. Koizumi told reporters after the visit. “I did not go to Yasukuni to pray for Class A war criminals. I went to offer condolences to the many who died in war and with the resolve that (Japan) must not wage war again.” On Monday, he called China and South Korea “immature” for their protests against his visits.
Seoul reacted quickly. The Foreign Ministry released a statement just after the visit saying that it was an attempt by Japan to justify its militaristic past and blamed Tokyo for the current icy relations between the two governments. The statement went on to speak of Seoul’s “deep disappointment and rage.”
Yesterday in Australia where he was visiting, Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said the anticipated visit was a show of “complete disrespect” to South Koreans.
President Roh Moo-hyun also mentioned the visit in a speech commemorating this nation’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. He urged Tokyo to take steps to settle disputes over Japan’s modern history that have put relations into a deep freeze. He cited Japanese history textbooks that Koreans believe whitewash military atrocities by Japanese troops and the the tussle over ownership of the Dokdo islets in the sea between the two neighbors.
Japan “must reflect sincerely on its past and through actions backing up its apologies, it needs to clearly prove that it has no intension repeating its past,” the president said.
Japan’s ambassador to Seoul, Shotaro Oshima, was called to the Foreign Ministry by Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, who delivered a similar message. Mr. Oshima replied that he would convey Seoul’s concern to Tokyo, but repeated Japan’s official line that the visit by the Japanese prime minister was not made in an official capacity. Yesterday afternoon, Seoul also sent its ambassador, Ra Jong-il, to Japan’s Foreign Ministry with a similar protest note.
Political parties here found something they could agree on, and joined in the official criticism.
Mr. Koizumi also faced criticism in Japan and within his party. Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, a candidate to succeed Mr. Koizumi when the latter steps down from office at the end of next month, said he opposed the visit.
In July, the Nihon Keizai newspaper reported the discovery of a memorandum in the Imperial Household Agency archives saying that Emperor Hirohito had stopped visiting Yasukuni because of the enshrinement there of the war criminals, which was done secretly in 1978. The memorandum was dated 1988; the emperor last visited the shrine in 1975.
In Beijing, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing read a statement to Japan’s envoy there, Yuji Miyamoto, warning that good relations between the two countries would depend on whether Tokyo acknowledged its former crimes.
Foreign Ministry officials hinted yesterday that there would be no further meetings with Japan’s prime minister if the visits continued in the next Japanese cabinet. One said, “Since Mr. Koizumi visited the Yasukuni Shrine last October, summit meetings have been cancelled. We have made clear what we need to see in order to pick up diplomatic exchanges at the highest level, so the situation will not change unless we have indications that Japan is changing.”
The Yasukuni Shrine honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including over 1,000 killed during World War II. Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, the leading candidate to replace Mr. Koizumi, visited the shrine secretly in April. He said later his visit was personal, but has not said whether he would continue to visit there if he is named prime minister.
The shrine’s Web site, and the war museum there, denies that Japan’s World War II campaign was military aggression. It claims that its war effort was supported by other Asian countries in a bid to form a pan-Asian alliance and resist European imperialism.


by Brian Lee


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