A diplomatic flap at YasukuniThe Shinzo Abe cabinet of Japan paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine yesterday. Three cabinet members, including Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso, bowed to those who died on behalf of the Empire of Japan. Prime Minister Abe sent his offerings to the deceased instead of directly paying respects to them.
The shrine also houses the ancestral tablets of 14 Class-A war criminals who died during the World War II. To some Japanese, they may be symbols of unswerving patriotism. To our eyes, however, they are war criminals who afflicted massive injuries and damage on their neighbors and other countries. If the Japanese officials had a humble enough mind-set to consider how others feel about them, they wouldn’t have paid respects at the shrine. Their visits pour salt on the wounds of victims. Our minister of foreign affairs, Yoon Byung-se, made the right choice by cancelling his planned visit to Tokyo. Any constructive meeting to discuss North Korean nuclear threats would be impossible under such circumstances.
The Abe cabinet for the first time sent a central government-level official to an event celebrating Takeshima (Dokdo islets) Day organized by Shimane Prefecture in February. Last month, the Japanese government put the final stamp on school textbooks which argue that Korea has been occupying the islets on the East Sea without justification. Earlier this month, it published a diplomatic blue paper which went so far as to insist that Dokdo is a Japanese territory, historically and legally. A series of diplomatic provocations over the territorial issue and the past only pour cold water on our expectations for better relations after the launch of the Park Geun-hye administration two months ago. The responsibility must be entirely borne by Tokyo.
Abe reiterated that it was utterly regretful for him not to pay respects at the Yasukuni Shrine during his first term as prime minister between 2006 and 2007. It would be naive if we seek better relations with his government.
Abe also tends to exploit North Korea’s nuclear threats as an excuse to reinforce Japan’s military clout. There are worries that Japan will accelerate its nationalist move if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party wins the upper house elections in July. Unless Japan does some serious soul-searching like Germany did after the World War II, we cannot expect a genuine friendship and cooperation between the two countries.