If Abe has his way, history would vanish

Publication Date : 15-01-2014


Japan has been looking over its shoulder since the United States said it was “disappointed that the Japanese leader has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbours”. Japan took it as a “rare” statement and was shocked.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid his first official visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals, on December 26. And instead of heeding to the strong protests from China and the Republic of Korea, the Abe administration has been busy trying to deal with the repercussions from the West, especially the US.

A team of bipartisan Japanese lawmakers, led by former foreign minister Hirofumi Nakasone, visited the US recently to convince American officials that Abe’s visit to Yasukuni – as the Japanese prime minister put it – was an act designed to “promote peace”. Japanese Vice-Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s younger brother, is on a visit to the US from January 13 to 17 to make American officials “understand” why Abe visited the shrine. The third team is expected to be led by Shotaro Yachi, head of secretariat of the Japanese version of the US National Security Council.

Last year, Asahi Shimbun called Abe a “cocky, aggressive driver”. But Abe’s nationalistic record tells us that he didn’t simply wake up on the morning of December 26 and decide it was a great day to communicate with the spirits of dead Japanese soldiers. He chose the day to commemorate his one year in office and knew full well the consequences of his action.

Irrespective of its motive, the US this time has warned Japanese leaders against visiting Yasukuni. During their trip to Japan in October, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel gave Yasukuni the skip and visited the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, which houses the remains of more than 350,000 unidentified Japanese who died in World War II. The US officials demonstrated how respect can be paid to the war dead even without visiting Yasukuni.

Besides, when Abe’s adviser Seiichi Eto visited the US in November last year, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel told him that Abe would hurt bilateral ties if he visited Yasukuni.

While Japanese officials were desperately trying to explain Abe’s action to the international community, something more alarming happened in Japan. On January 8, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party released a draft proposal for 2014, omitting the “pledge never to wage war again” and “pacifist nation” in a turnaround from its last year’s stance. The draft, expected to be formally adopted at the LDP’s convention on January 19, says: “We take (Yasukuni Shrine) visits to bolster our veneration for and offer our gratitude to those who served as the cornerstone of the country, and renew our commitment to lasting peace.” But Yasukuni is not the place to pray for Japan’s peace and to pledge not to wage war.

Abe is set to use the parliament’s ordinary session from January 24 to June 22 to make Japan embrace the right to collective self-defence. In his New Year’s address, he said he expected Japan’s Constitution “will have been revised” by 2020 when Tokyo hosts the Olympic Games.

He is desperate to remove the peaceful safeguards put on Japan by the international community after the end of WWII, making even some right-wingers in Japan worried about his moves. “Having been a right-wing activist for more than 40 years, I find today’s rightist movement too dangerous for my liking. That is because there aren’t enough people left nowadays who understand the true horrors of war,” Kunio Suzuki, 70, adviser to Japan’s right-wing nationalist group Issuikai, was quoted by the Asahi Shimbun as saying.

Abe wants to rewrite history to whitewash the atrocities Japan committed on the people in neighbouring countries, especially China, during WWII, and accord the pride of place to war criminals in the country’s pantheon.

In contrast, Germany is still on the lookout for Nazi war criminals. In fact, on January 8, an 88-year-old man in Dortmund was charged with the murder of 25 people, and for aiding and abetting the killings of several hundred residents of Oradour-sur-Glane village in central France in 1944. Germany was an ally of Japan during World War II, but the two countries couldn’t be more different today.

The author is China Daily’s Tokyo bureau chief.


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If Abe has his way, history would vanish
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