Abe seeks to explain his intentions

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Abe seeks to explain his intentions

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated yesterday at his New Year’s press conference that he wants to explain his intent for visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine last month to the leaders of Korea and China.

The press conference followed Abe’s visit to the Ise Grand Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the ancestral deity of the imperial family in Mie Prefecture. It was his first official activity of the New Year. Abe said he wants to directly “explain with sincerity to the leaders of China and Korea” about his visit to the Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 26, along with other issues. He did not elaborate further. Yasukuni enshrines the war dead, including 14 Class-A war criminals, and Abe’s visit last month raised the ire of Japan’s victims of wartime aggression.

The visit to Yasukuni was the first by a sitting prime minister since Junichiro Koizumi’s in 2006, though Abe’s cabinet members as well as a record number of lawmakers visited the shrine last year, drawing strong protest from Seoul. The shrine is regarded by Japan’s neighbors, particularly Korea and China, as a symbol of Japan’s brutal military past. Abe also said that a summit meeting with Seoul and Beijing was not currently in the works but that the door to dialogue is open. He also said he would “like to hold summits with China and Korea.”

He added that the two countries were “extremely important for the peace and security” of Northeast Asia, and that the “more difficult the problem, the more important it is for leaders to talk without preconditions.”

The rightist Abe administration has also pushed for a stronger Japanese military and is working toward the amendment of its pacifist Constitution to enable Japan to regain its rights to collective self-defense. In his speech yesterday, Abe emphasized that there also has to be increased discussion within Japan in regard to the amendment or a reinterpretation of its Constitution. Abe said he believes that he will be able to achieve understanding about his administration’s “pursuit of peace” if he has the opportunity to explain his intentions properly.

But whether an opportunity for Abe to explain his position to the presidents of Korea and China will arise anytime soon remains to be seen, though Abe said he has already conveyed to Seoul his desire to talk.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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