A Fall Solution to Yasukuni

by 岡崎久彦 on 2005年10月 7日

It is about time to resolve the Yasukuni issue once and for all. And that time seems to be approaching. With Yasukuni Shrine scheduled to hold ordinary autumn memorial services this month, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should make an official visit on that occasion. That would be the best way to settle the issue.

I have long argued that a prime minister should visit the memorial services rather than on Aug. 15. This is not to say that it is wrong to go on the anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, but an Aug. 15 visit can complicate the issue.

The primary purpose of visiting Yasukuni is to pray for the souls of those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country and to express a determination to protect the country so that they may rest in peace. If an official visit is made purely in this spirit, fine. The problem is that it may be difficult for politicians to visit the shrine in this frame of mind when people still hold different views on the history of the war and the postwar occupation.

Former Prime Minister Takeo Miki made a no-war pledge before the shrine. In a similar vein, Koizumi has referred to the war dead as “those who died against their will.” This is hardly the way to give thanks for their heroic sacrifices.

In retrospect, the Yasukuni issue was complicated by a personal visit on Aug. 15 by Miki and by an official visit on the same date by former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who called for a “total settlement” of postwar problems. Both visits were politically motivated, although they had very different intentions.

Other prime ministers have paid quiet official homage to Yasukuni during the spring and autumn memorial services. But China and other countries have never made an issue of these visits.

Aug. 15, of course, is a symbolic date that evokes tragic memories of the last war. Japanese politicians may claim that they visit on this date to make a mo-war pledge, but the Chinese view the visit as an act aimed at justifying the Pacific War. Controversy surrounding the convicted class-A criminals is seen in the same context.

Personally I am optimistic that the Yasukuni issue can be settled in the near future. The reason is that the Chinese attitude toward Japan has changed significantly in recent months.

Japanese feelings toward China have deteriorated since demonstrations in April. Although Japanese investors have tended to move funds to other countries since spring, my view is that China changed its attitude on the very day that the first anti-Japanese protests took place. Immediately afterward, Chinese authorities announced a Communist Party policy banning all anti-Japanese demonstration. Then, following new demonstrations in Shanghai and Guangzhou, authorities declared an effective state of emergency. Chinese people are no longer allowed to stage anti-Japanese rallies.

These outbursts prove the outstanding success of China’s anti-Japanese education and patriotic movement over the past 15 years. Such protests, once they get started, could spread quickly across the country and possibly develop into a massive antigovernment campaign.

Under such circumstances, the patriotic movement itself may have to change. In this regard, it is worth noting that anti-Japanese wax figures are said to have been removed from the Lukow-kiao (Marco Polo Bridge) museum, which reopened in July.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, in a Sept. 3 speech marking the 60th anniversary of the Chinese victory in the war against Japan, said the two nations were at offs only briefly during their 2,000-year history ? a phrase similar to that used by Japanese leaders before ? even though the speech itself was intended to stress the grand wartime unity of the anti-Japan allies, including the United States and the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party) of Taiwan.

Reciprocal visits by Japanese and Chinese leaders have been kept up in the air because of the Yasukuni issue. This should not have been allowed to happen. The current stalemate is due primarily to a Chinese diplomatic faux pas. The issue will not be resolved unless Beijing works it out one way or another.

As I am addressing this piece to Chinese leaders, my suggestion is this: If Koizumi, having already stopped visiting Yasukuni on Aug. 15, makes an official visit only during the autumn memorial services and makes no particular reference to the last war, then China should take that as a Japanese concession. On that basis, whether they say it explicitly or not, the Chinese should quietly drop the Yasukuni issue.

Attempts, however, by so-called pro-China Japanese politicians to mediate such concession could complicate matter again. The best way for Koizumi is to visit the shrine during the memorial services, as almost making any superfluous comments, and wait quietly for the Chinese reaction.

For China, there seems to be little reason to stir up things at this time, given its present domestic situation and its diplomatic reaction.

Another thing worth nothing is that international opinion has changed subtly with regard to Japan and China. In the past, comments in victor nations followed a familiar pattern of criticizing China while urging Japan to repent of its past militarism. Lately, though, a new view has begun to assert itself: Japan has apologized sufficiently ? enough is enough.

Indeed, world public opinion no longer seems much interested in playing up this issue. There is nothing wrong with praying for the souls of the war dead in general. It is practiced as a matter of course in other countries.

Nevertheless, if Koizumi again goes to Yasukuni, it will probably cause some stir abroad, considering what has already transpired. But if that controversy disappears in due course, then the Yasukuni issue should be regarded as having been settled for all practical purposes.