1 Abe Visit to Controversial Japanese Shrine Draws Rare U.S. Criticism. By George Nishiyama
Visit to Yasukuni Raises Concern Premier Shifting Focus From Economy to Nationalistic Goals
Wall Street Journal, Dec. 26, 2013 3:04 p.m. ET
Mr. Abe visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine on Thursday, triggering strong criticism from Beijing and Seoul, but also a rare disapproval by Washington, which has pushed the Asian neighbors to mend ties that are strained by territorial disputes and differences over wartime history.
Many Asian nations that suffered from Japan's wartime actions view Yasukuni as a symbol of Tokyo's past militarism because it honors not just Japan's war dead but also some convicted World War II war criminals, including Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister for most of the war.
"The United States is disappointed that Japan's leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan's neighbors," said the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on its website, in an unusual direct criticism of Japan's leader by its main ally.
Mr. Abe has repeatedly said he regretted not visiting the shrine during his first tenure as prime minister from 2006 to 2007 and said his critics misunderstood his intentions. "I offered my respects to those who lost their precious lives for our country, and prayed that their souls may rest in peace," he told reporters after the visit. "I have no intention at all of hurting the feelings of the Chinese or the South Korean people."
Although a well-known conservative who has stated that changing the pacifist constitution drafted by the occupying U.S. forces was his "life's work," Mr. Abe had adopted an economy-first policy after taking office in December 2012, putting his nationalist agenda on the back burner.
His so-called Abenomics policy featuring government spending and monetary stimulus has spurred consumption, resulting in the Japanese economy recording the strongest expansion among industrialized nations in the first half of this year, although the country's growth rate slowed in the third quarter.
The improved economy has helped make Mr. Abe one of the most popular Japanese leaders in recent years, with his support ratings hovering around 60% for most of the past year.
All of that has come as a relief to Washington, which faces a rising military power in China and is wary of the regional tensions developing into physical confrontations. The U.S. has also tired of a revolving door of short-lived Japanese prime ministers.
During an October visit to Tokyo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel paid respects at the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery, a tomb for Japan's unknown war dead, in a move widely seen as a message to Mr. Abe that there are alternatives to Yasukuni.
While Mr. Abe had refrained from going to Yasukuni until Thursday, on the anniversary of his taking office, some of his cabinet ministers had visited, each time inviting protests from China and South Korea. Mr. Abe's visit, the first by a prime minister in seven years, drew angry responses from the neighbors.
China's foreign minister summoned Japan's ambassador to protest and criticized Thursday's visit as the latest attempt by Mr. Abe to gloss over Japan's militaristic past. "Under these conditions, not only does the Japanese leader not show restraint, but instead makes things worse by manufacturing another incident over history," spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement. "Japan must bear all the consequences arising from this."
Seoul also decried the move. "Our government cannot but deplore and express anger about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine despite concerns from neighboring countries and the international community," said Yoo Jin-Ryong, a South Korean spokesman.
Analysts in the region agreed the move would further deteriorate relations. The development is severe, said Wang Shaopu, director of Japan Institution at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "It will worsen China-Japan's already bad-enough relations."
Others said Mr. Abe had gone ahead with the visit because he felt he had nothing to lose given that ties were already frayed. While he has visited all of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, he has yet to visit China or South Korea nor has he held formal bilateral meetings with their leaders.
"Mr. Abe probably thought that a visit to Yasukuni at this point wouldn't have too much of an impact on prospects of future summits with Beijing and Seoul considering how chances already seemed slim," said Masafumi Kaneko, a senior research fellow at the Center for International and Strategic Studies at PHP Institute.
Mr. Abe's aides said what they cared about most was the U.S. reaction. "The biggest, or should I say, the only concern is what the U.S. would say," said a senior government official who was aware of the prime minister's plans in advance. He expressed confidence that the ties between the allies wouldn't be affected, noting that President Barack Obama was relying on the prime minister to help seal a deal over a trans-Pacific free-trade forum and to move forward plans to relocate U.S. troops in the region.
The government official said Mr. Abe intended to stick to making economic recovery the top priority, stressing how investors would start to see deregulatory measures—the last of the three pillars of his economic policy—in action in the new year. "We intend to keep the ball rolling for Abenomics," the official said.
But Mr. Abe may have miscalculated the U.S. response, analysts said. "The U.S. reaction was unexpected. Mr. Abe is moving to bolster the Japan-U.S. alliance, and the focus is whether they can move beyond just a military alliance, and share values," said Koji Murata, a political-science professor and the president of Doshisha University. "The U.S. may be frustrated at Mr. Abe, who is obsessed with history issues."
Diplomatic feuds have shown they can affect business interests in the region. After the previous Japanese government nationalized disputed islands in the East China Sea in September 2012, Chinese consumers boycotted Japanese products, dealing a serious blow to Japanese firms, including car makers.
But the Tokyo stock market took Mr. Abe's visit to the shrine in stride on Thursday, finishing higher. Investors said other factors, including a weaker yen, were more important than diplomatic issues.
—Alexander Martin, Kosaku Narioka and James T. Areddy contributed to this article.
2 A Japanese citizen weighs in:
this is a pretty simple issue... it's a thing about "mind" or "philosophy" for Japanese and "political" for China or Korea. it'd not been a problem until middle of 80s indeed. they are just always looking for something to claim or criticize Japan to let us compromise us one-sidedly. they are just trying to do this in the name of human-right. Japan has to be 100% evil, and they have to be 100% victims forever. so they will never forgive us no matter how we apologized.
if PM Abe didn't do it, they would find something another.it's not known very much in other countries, but Japan's already apologized many times, paid much and supported in many ways even the countries didn't let their citizens know about that.
major Japanese started to think it looks waste of time and effort to make a good relationship with them any longer.more than 70% of Japanese agree with PM Abe's Yasukuni visit this time in a survey of a TV channel (this is so-called "liberal" channel). we all know he just wants to thank people who worked and died for this country, and wishes peace.
personally, i go to the shrine when i'm in Tokyo (my grand father died in WW2).have a good new year!