Following after Nakasone

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Following after Nakasone

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was an unconventional leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. During his term from 1982 to 1987, he broke many taboos to settle postwar issues. On Aug. 15, 1985, he made an official visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, the first prime minister to do so. He promoted small government and sought administrative and fiscal reform as well as privatization of railroads, telecom and tobacco.

He also opposed his predecessor Yoshida’s lightly armed, economy-focused policies. It was a challenge to the mainstream conservative Liberal Democrats. Nakasone increased defense spending beyond 1 percent of GNP in 1986 and proclaimed that the United States and Japan have a shared fate. He called the Japanese islands an “unsinkable vessel” against Soviet invasion. However, Nakasone did not focus on the United States all the time. He valued Asia as well. Right after his inauguration in January 1983, he visited Korea first and then went to the United States after six days. The next month, he sent a special envoy to China and acknowledged Japan’s war of aggression in the Diet. It was the first time a Japanese president did so. On the Sino-Japanese War, he said that the war was internationally defined as a war of aggression. China protested his Yasukuni visit, and he never repeated it.

Nakasone’s four principles of foreign policy have universal lessons: A country must not pursue diplomacy beyond its capacity; diplomacy cannot be a gamble; a leader must not mix domestic and international affairs; and foreign policy should not deviate from the mainstream global trends. For the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Nakasone contributed a column in Japanese media.

He wrote that Japan’s war in Asia was wrong and that the pain cannot be healed for 100 years. People who do not face history directly cannot win the trust or respect of others, and it is Japan’s destiny to work with the United States, with whom Japan shares values. At the same time, Japan is part of Asia and cannot exist without the friendship and cooperation of Asia, he argued. If the future represents what we have learned from the past, we should march forward while reflecting on the faults that must not be repeated and ideals for the new era.

Abe’s statement proclaims to deviate from the postwar system, and it does not reverberate with the insight and vision of Nakasone. It is a regression of Japan’s historical awareness. Korean foreign policy may have to deal with this trend in Japan for a while. Korea should not follow public sentiment. Instead, the authorities need to buck the trend and offer a friendly hand. Korea-Japan relations have been suppressed by history for too long.

*The author is Tokyo bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 22, Page 30


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