Michael Auslin writes: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (pronounced “Ah-bay”) has just visited Yasukuni Shrine, Ground Zero for political controversy with China and Seoul. In doing so, he has all but acknowledged that a cold war exists between Japan and its northeast-Asian neighbors China and South Korea. It’s a shot across the bow of both countries, boldly, perhaps recklessly, announcing that Japan will no longer seek better relations on their terms. Nor does he have the support of the United States. Abe is putting Japan on a path of increasing diplomatic self-reliance, but doing so with the belief that it is the right response to continued tensions with Beijing and Seoul. That it will inflame those tensions, he is well aware.
Yasukuni Shrine is somewhat analogous to Arlington National Cemetery, being the religious site where the spirits of Japan’s war dead since 1867 are commemorated. Founded in 1869 across from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, there are nearly 2.5 million individuals enshrined there. Among them are 14 Class A war criminals from World War II, including wartime premier Hideki Tojo. These individuals were enshrined in 1978, nearly two decades after the first Class B and C war criminals were included in the shrine. Emperor Hirohito, who reigned during the war, refused to visit the shrine after 1978 and the inclusion of Tojo and others.
There was little international controversy about the shrine until 1985, when then–prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone paid an official visit to offer prayers for the dead. The outcry forced him to abandon plans for future visits, but annual visits by popular prime minister Junichiro Koizumi between 2001 and 2006 again fanned the flames of diplomatic protest. Both Beijing and South Korea have heatedly and vehemently condemned visits to the shrine by any serving Japanese cabinet official, and especially the prime minister. While no doubt feeling true outrage over what they see as attempts to whitewash the memory of the atrocities committed by the Class A war criminals, Chinese and Korean officials have also used the shrine visits as a means of pressuring Japan and keeping it diplomatically isolated in Asia. Contemporary politics have as much to do with the furor over Yasukuni as does the historical record.
This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com
- Japan’s PM visits Yasukuni shrine, infuriating Chinese and Koreans
- Israel to announce new settlements along with Palestinian prisoner release
- Pakistan protesters block Nato supply route after new drone strikes
Japan’s PM visits Yasukuni shrine, infuriating Chinese and Koreans
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a surprise visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Thursday, saying the purpose of the visit was to pray for peace. Yasukuni Shrine is the national shrine for millions of war dead in Japan regardless of what role they played. It is still a scared place to all Japanese. The shrine was initially created by Emperor Meiji to commemorate any individuals who had died in service of the Empire of Japan during the Meiji Restoration. However, the numbers of those enshrined there have been expanded since opening in 1867.
China and South Korea are infuriated by the visit, because 14 convicted or accused Class A war criminals are enshrined there, in addition to the war dead from World War II.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said:
“China will not tolerate this. Abe’s visit severely went against the principle and spirit of the four political documents between the two countries, as well as the commitment made by former Japanese administrations and leaders on historical issues, and erected a major new political obstacle to the already strained China-Japan relations.
However, according to Abe:
“Some people criticize a visit to Yasukuni as something to pay homage to war criminals, an idea based on misunderstanding.
I paid a visit to show (to the war dead) my determination to create an age where no one will ever suffer from tragedies of wars.”
Thursday was also the 120th anniversary of Mao Zedong‘s birthday, which China celebrated with patriotic songs and TV docu-dramas. Purposely left out of this “glorious” history was any mention of Mao’s horrific mistakes: the Great Famine of 1958-61 that killed tens of millions and the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution that shattered the lives of millions. Much to the dismay of many Chinese, the party still blocks public debate of these tragedies in case it might undermine the party’s grip on power. Japan Times (Comment) and CNTV (Beijing) and CS Monitor