[OUTLOOK]Forget the fool, study his successorAs the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, it isn’t smart to argue with a fool: Listeners can’t tell which is which. You can gain nothing if you argue with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who has no manners, is narrow-minded and is ignorant of international politics as shown by his visits to the Yasukuni Shrine.
A Japanese saying, “A fool sticks to only one thing,” is perfect for a person like Mr. Koizumi. It is wrong to think that the prime minister sticks to his visits to the shrine in order to gain support from conservatives and right-wing extremists. He does so because excessivepatriotism and militarism run in his family from his grandfather. In 2003, Mr. Koizumi shed tears at the Chiran Kamikaze Museum in Kagoshima.
Looking at his quotes, one can see that he would pay a visit to the shrine even if that would make him lose support, instead of gaining it. In a debate before electing the president of the Liberal Democratic Party in April 2001, he promised that if he became prime minister, he would visit the Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the day marking the end of World War II, no matter what criticism he might provoke. He has kept his promise. He once said Japanese should not forget that today’s Japan was founded on honorable sacrifices by the war dead.
When the descendants of the Korean war dead who were conscripted by imperial Japan and buried at the Yasukuni Shrine filed a suit contending that leaders’ visits to the Yasukuni were unconstitutional, Mr. Koizumi said cynically that such a stance did not make sense, and that there are always some weird people around. He behaves as if his life depended on his visits to the shrine.
Mr. Koizumi’s position stands in contrast to that of one of his predecessors, Yasuhiro Nakasone, who also visited the Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, in 1985. But when Korea and China reacted vigorously, he let his chief cabinet secretary release a statement saying he would not visit there again because of the sentiment in neighboring countries. In a letter to Hu Yaobang, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, he admitted that visits to Yasukuni were a grave diplomatic matter.
Although Mr. Koizumi’s visits to the shrine break Mr. Nakasone’s promise, not to care about such things typifies the incumbent prime minister’s style. I am glad that the country bumpkin worrier who indulges in self-absorption and shallow heroism and who wears a horse mane hairdo and dances like a clown in front of U.S. President George W. Bush is soon to step down from his post.
We should now forget Mr. Koizumi. There are probably two reasons for his recent visit as his term ends. The first is to remind Shinzo Abe, his likely successor, of the importance of strengthening Japan’s military through rewriting the Japanese pacifist Constitution and through enhancing the patriotism that the Yasukuni Shrine symbolizes.
The second reason is his childlike desire to show off. He wants to show that he can do things that others cannot do. But his visit to the shrine, the one that will be his last as prime minister, will end up as a sad story. Mr. Abe is looking for ways to get away from his predecessor’s influence or of being linked to him. Mr. Abe is expected to take a prudent attitude on visits to the shrine. We do not need to care about Mr. Koizumi’s boastful acts, like those of Don Quixote.
China has long prepared itself for the new era of Shinzo Abe. China’s strategy can be found in its diplomatic reaction to Mr. Koizumi’s visit to the shrine on Tuesday. In Korea, the vice minister of foreign affairs called in the Japanese ambassador, and the Korean ambassador to Japan visited the vice minister of foreign affairs to deliver a complaint.
China recalled its ambassador to Japan before Liberation Day. That was more than a complaint about the expected visit to the shrine; it was a strong message to the next prime minister. Beijing must have calculated that there was nothing to lose if its ambassador to Japan stayed home for a while before the next prime minister took office in Tokyo.
The new face in Tokyo has a chance to rebuild Korea-Japan ties. The Blue House was too hasty in saying it opposed any visit to the shrine by a prime minister even if the memorial tablets to the Class A war criminals were moved out of the shrine.
Although it is clear that the Yasukuni Shrine is not an ordinary memorial, but symbolizes Japan’s militarism, the shrine should not completely block better bilateral ties. So there is probably little choice other than to compromise on the issue. The offending criminal tablets could be moved elsewhere.
In diplomacy, one cannot take without giving. We should remain ambiguous for a while and study Shinzo Abe.
* The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Young-hie