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Sunday, June 26, 2005
Experts face off on prime minister visits to Yasukuni Shrine
Stopping now would be caving in to China, making Japan look weak
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should continue his annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, to avoid giving the wrong impression that Japan will cave in to China's heavy-handed tactics, according to Mineo Nakajima, president of Akita International University.
Yasukuni enshrines the nation's war dead, including Class-A war criminals, and China and South Korea have criticized Koizumi's annual pilgrimages as a sign that Japan has not repented its past military aggression.
Yasukuni is not the only dispute between Tokyo and Beijing — the two Asian giants are at odds over various issues, including a gas field development project in the East China Sea and ownership of resources surrounding Okinotori Island, Japan's southernmost territory in the Pacific Ocean.
But if Koizumi stops going to Yasukuni, "China will think Japan is a nation that will compromise when strongly pressured," Nakajima said in a recent interview. "It will step up its interference in Japan's domestic affairs."
Beijing has openly demanded that Koizumi stop visiting the shrine, which honors 14 Class-A war criminals as well as 2.5 million war dead.
Nakajima said that while Koizumi might personally want to give up paying his respects at Yasukuni, he shouldn't stop now after setting the precedent with his annual visits since taking office in April 2001.
Nakajima also said the Yasukuni issue has taken on broader implications than simply whether Japan is repentant over its past. It is now a diplomatic power game between Japan and China that has drawn the attention of the international community.
As such, Japan's position in the international arena will diminish if Koizumi bows to Chinese pressure, he asserted.
Nakajima further said that Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni are a personal matter concerning one's religious beliefs.
The Sino-Japanese relationship would have deteriorated regardless of the shrine issue because China considers Japan as an obstacle to its goal of becoming a superpower, he said.
"Japan's current bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council is an obstacle to that global strategy," he said.
Although some influential Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, including former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, have urged Yasukuni Shrine to remove the Class-A war criminals from its rolls, Nakajima opposes this idea.
The concept of separating Class-A war criminals from other war dead is based on China's perception of class conflict that puts blame on a "small number of villains," Nakajima observed.
"But Class-A war criminals were not the only ones involved in the war," he said. "At the time, the whole nation was trying to win the war."
After Japan's defeat, the 14 best-known wartime leaders were categorized as Class-A war criminals by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, initiated by the U.S.-led Allied powers, he said.
Nakajima said Japan should consider China as a threat, reinforce the security alliance with the United States and start adopting a more hardline stance against its biggest Asian rival.
Communist China is rapidly building up its military, has threatened to use force if Taiwan attempts to become independent and is trying to expand its influence in world affairs with its military power, he asserted.
"Japan should stop thinking that Sino-Japanese relations must always be benign," Nakajima said. "Japan and China are like half brothers . . . once the relationship gets complicated, it is more difficult to restore than those with other people."