Abe’s nod and winkJapanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid respects at the Yasukuni Shrine yesterday, the anniversary of his second inauguration as the head of the government. Yasukuni, a symbol of Japan’s militarism, is home to memorial tablets of more than 2.46 million war dead - including 14 Class-A war criminals from World War II. Abe’s visit to the shrine constitutes a brazen denial of his vow to contribute to world peace through so-called “assertive pacifism,” a misnomer if ever there was one.
After his insulting trip to a vestige of Japan’s militarist past, Abe said he paid respects to those who sacrificed their lives for their motherland, adding that he had no intention to hurt the feelings of Koreans and Chinese. That’s a shameless lie. Japan’s neighbors, who were left with indelible scars from Japan’s aggressions, perceive his visit as a boldfaced attempt to justify - and glorify - its warmongering past. If Abe really cared about his neighbors’ pain, he would know where not to go, and that’s the Yasukuni Shrine.
Abe has crossed a bridge of no return. His self-righteous visit explicitly reflects a lopsided and obstinate image of the hard-line prime minister. If he made the visit elated by high approval ratings, he may start to lose those high ratings because of it.
The Korean government has expressed its outrage. China has denounced Abe’s visit as a serious challenge against justice and the norms of civilized humankind. Abe’s visit will most likely lead to a prolongation of the abnormal situation in which he can’t even hold summits with his Korean and Chinese counterparts, not to mention exacerbated disputes over territorial and history issues. Abe must be held accountable for all the mess that’s about to be produced. He brought it on himself and his nation.
Abe has been accelerating a drive toward greater militarism on the pretext of countering threats from Beijing and Pyongyang. But neighbors don’t believe his so-called “assertive pacifism” for a second. It’s based on no regrets for Japan’s aggression-ridden past. His visit to Yasukuni testifies to the mendaciousness of his oxymoronic path to peace through arms. It is contradictory to claim to be a peace-seeking man while nodding and winking over the atrocities in Japan’s recent past.
Abe’s choices will make Northeast Asia’s future even more opaque. Cooperation among Korea, China and Japan and the trilateral alliance among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are now pipe dreams. America’s Northeast Asia security initiative will also be damaged. Some breakthrough may be possible to the deadlock - if Abe is not involved.