[VIEWPOINT]What else is on Japan’s mind?Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan visited the Yasukuni Shrine again on Monday, his fifth trip there since he came to power. I have sympathy with Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, who said, “I am frustrated.” Despite the opposition in Japan and persistent protests from South Korea and China, Mr. Koizumi visited the shrine anyway.
This makes us wonder whether he has any intention of reflecting on Japan’s past wrongdoings and whether he has any wish to improve relations with neighboring Asian countries. His visit tarnishes his statement on Aug. 15 in which he apologized for and reflected on Japan’s aggression and colonial rule.
The Japanese prime minister’s visit to the shrine reminds South Koreans of the glorification of militarism. This is because the Yasukuni Shrine is a place where the name tablets of 14 Class-A World War II war criminals are enshrined.
It is awkward logic to say that he visits the shrine to pay tribute to the unknown soldiers who fought and died for Japan. A distinction cannot be made between the Class-A war criminals and unknown soldiers who are enshrined at the same place. If he wants to visit a shrine for the unknown soldiers, it would be better for him to visit the Chidorigafuchi National Tomb for Dead Soldiers in Tokyo. The term “national tomb” is clearly written there. The tomb is located less than 1 kilometer away from the Yasukuni Shrine.
It is also absurd to say that he visits the shrine because he never wants a war again. No one would believe him even if he pointlessly argued that he is not glorifying the war while paying respects at the shrine where the war criminals who took charge of the war are buried. It is a sophism to say that war criminals cannot be held responsible for their crimes because all Japanese people become gods when they die. If that is the case, this logic makes us ask again why war criminals were punished and why their crimes were investigated for punishment.
Prime Minister Koizumi should not have visited the Yasukuni Shrine. He should not have done so not because South Korea and China opposed his visit but because Japan needs to truly reflect on its past history and show determination to clear itself of the debt. According to a survey by the Kyodo News Agency, more Japanese people oppose his visit than approve of it; that is, 53 percent of respondents opposed while 37.7 percent approved. His visit to the shrine is not a matter to be justified by wrapping it up in bizzare logic.
For Mr. Koizumi’s part, as long as he pledged that “he would visit the shrine once a year,” it would be a violation of a political promise if he did not visit the shrine. After all, he ended up being bound to the promise he made. To reduce the diplomatic repercussions, he has adjusted the visiting dates every year. This year, September passed and he had few days left for the visit, considering his diplomatic schedule, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit talks in November and the South Korea-Japan summit talks that were scheduled to be held in December.
As a desperate measure, Mr. Koizumi paid a quick visit to the shrine on Monday, the first day of the ritual at the shrine, paying homage not officially but “in a private capacity,” as ordinary people do. He did not enter the main hall of the shrine, observe the formality of Shinto, an ancient Japanese religion, or sign the visitor’s book as prime minister. Immediately after he paid tribute, he left the shrine. This measure was taken in consideration, albeit perfunctorily, of opposition in Japan and protests from South Korea and China. Asking for understanding that he tried to minimize the repercussions while visiting the shrine is not comparable, however, to asking for an evaluation of his resolution not to visit.
It is very regrettable that Mr. Koizumi should visit the Yasukuni Shrine. The leader of any country should avoid hindering the country’s diplomacy because of his personal belief. We cannot say readily that we will continue the summit talks regardless of his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, as if granting him an indulgence.
Even so, we don’t need to be overly sensitive, either. We don’t need to step forward to discontinue a dialogue. Let’s hear what else Japan can say besides excuses. We should see whether Japan has any future-oriented proposal to which the country used to give lip service.
Let’s ask Mr. Koizumi if he can display his political resolution on the issues of constructing facilities to replace the tomb for the dead soldiers, improving the treatment of ethnic Koreans in Japan, completely exempting South Koreans from visa requirements and signing a South Korea-Japan free trade agreement soon as much as he did on his visit to the shrine. It would not be too late for us to decide after that. Avoiding those issue is not the right thing to do.
* The writer is a professor of political science at the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Park Cheol-hee