[VIEWPOINT]An open letter to Junichiro Koizumi

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[VIEWPOINT]An open letter to Junichiro Koizumi

Your Excellency, You did not refrain from causing trouble even at the very end of your premiership. You visited the Yasukuni Shrine and paid homage to the Japanese war dead on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces, just one month before the end of your term. Although you said repeatedly that you would visit the shrine, I never thought that you really would. I wonder whether this is “Koizumi-style last-minute courtesy.” I heard that even former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who headed the political faction you belong to in the Liberal Democratic Party, did his best to dissuade you from visiting the shrine recently. Despite the advice from people around you, however, you stubbornly closed your ears to them.
Perhaps you had a feeling of dissatisfaction when you visited the shrine once a year during your five years and four months in office. Maybe that was because you hadn’t fulfilled the pledge that “I will visit the Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15 no matter what criticism there may be.”
Your Excellency implemented the pledge right before your term ended. Maybe that was why your facial expression at the scene of worship at the shrine was different from that of ordinary times.
Was it out of satisfaction that “I have kept my pledge without succumbing to pressure from South Korea and China?”
However, Your Excellency, I feel bitter, empty and angry. Why should I feel that way?
First, only a few people asked you to observe that pledge. You were the only one who was caught in your own trap. By the way, Your Excellency, I wonder whether you remember another public pledge you made before your inauguration: “I will put a curb on the amount of government bonds issued at below 30 trillion yen ($258 billion).” But you later said, “It is not a big problem that I didn’t accomplish a pledge like that.”
Therefore, the logic that you went to the shrine on the memorial day of Japan’s surrender in order to keep the pledge, which should be honored no matter what, does not make sense.
Shall I add one more thing that made me upset? In 2001, the year you were inaugurated, you announced your reason for not visiting the shrine on Aug. 15 through a statement: “If there is a possibility that my visit to the shrine would cause misunderstandings, considering Japan’s fundamental position of cherishing peace, that is not what I want.” In April of the next year, you made a similar remark. Then, why did you not do that this year? Does it mean that you don’t mind even if the visit this time causes misunderstandings?
Second, while criticizing South Korea and China for reacting against your visit to the shrine, you got angry and said, “It is only a matter of my heart, what’s the problem?”
But it is not that simple. A matter of one’s heart that is not acceptable to others is only childishness or stubbornness.
Some time ago, I heard former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who visited the Yasukuni Shrine for the first time as prime minister in 1985 but stopped visiting the next year, make an insinuating remark toward you: “ ‘A matter of my heart’ is not acceptable to the outside world as an excuse.”
He is right. If a couple gets married at a church, people naturally think they are Christians. You don’t have to blame people for thinking in such a way.
Third, please don’t say that it is “the proper right of a sovereign country” when you visit the Yasukuni Shrine. That is a remark that can be made by a country such as North Korea which fires missiles at will, not the words of a leader of the world’s second-largest economy. Shouldn’t you make remarks and take diplomatic action suitable to your country’s capacity? When I met you at the prime minister’s residence in November 2003 with a group of journalists, you told us you would endure public criticism once, twice and thrice.
In retrospect, however, it seems that you have not changed, although you endured the criticism. Because you did not change, the way of thinking of the South Koreans and the Chinese did not change either. However, the curtain of the Koizumi era will soon be lowered. It may not be helpful to either South Korea and Japan if we make a fuss over an outgoing Japanese prime minister. In a way, Your Excellency is leaving behind an unintended present to your successor and neighboring countries, because relations with neighboring countries cannot get any worse than this. Your Excellency, one month from now when you have become a former prime minister, you can visit Yasukuni any time you want. No one will talk of your visits.
But please keep in mind that you will not go into history as a leader who didn’t succumb to pressure from neighboring countries, but as one who caused the relationships with your neighbors to deteriorate. It was oppressive and more scorching hot on Tuesday, Aug. 15, than a typical summer day in Tokyo.

* The writer is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Hyun-ki
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