Tag Archives: Yasukuni Jinja

Is Yasukuni Really out of the Picture?

The Yasukuni Shrine may be making an exit from the rhetoric of Sino-Japanese tensions. The Chinese ambassador to Japan said in a report published yesterday that China and Japan have “finally overcome this political impediment damaging bilateral relations.”

“The political stalemate has been broken,” the ambassador, Wang Yi, said in an interview with Xinhua. But don’t think this means China will be letting Japan out of the grips of history-infused public diplomacy. If Abe Shinzo decides to visit the shrine—he hasn’t said whether he will—then the Yasukuni rhetoric may make a solid comeback.

Meanwhile, Wang turned to great power competition as a rhetorical frame for China–Japan tensions.

“Many of the conflicts and friction in China–Japan relations in recent years have surfaced over the Yasukuni Shrine issue, but the broader background is that the national strength of both countries has risen to differing degrees,” he said.

Wang also suggested that Tokyo was having trouble accepting China’s emergence as a regional power with trade and political clout.

“A senior Japanese official told me that China’s development and rise is a fact we must face up to, but just as the United States in the 1980s could not adjust to Japan’s rise, now many in Japan are not mentally prepared to accept China’s development,” Wang said.

That’s no joke when you look at recent numbers from the Pew Global Attitudes Project that show populations of Asian states aren’t exactly warm toward their neighbors. Foreign Policy‘s Passport blog interprets the numbers to mean Asians aren’t buying China’s “peaceful rise” narrative (as enunciated primarily by Zheng Bijian). I think that might be a leap of logic, but either way, 70 percent of Japanese and 71 percent of Chinese have unfavorable views of each other. There is no shortage of minds to be changed.

Chinese Official: Sino-Japanese Relations 'Back on Track'

Huang Xinyuan says Sino-Japanese relations have recovered. That’s after Prime Minister Abe Shinzo‘s second meeting with President Hu Jintao this weekend at the APEC summit in Hanoi, and after five years of stilted relations during Koizumi Junichiro’s leadership in Japan.

“Since Prime Minister Abe’s visit to China,” Huang Xingyuan, Councilor with China’s Foreign Ministry, said today in Hanoi, “China-Japan relations have improved dramatically and are now back on track.”

The two leaders met today.

“The talks today were constructive and positive and will definitely improve China-Japan relations,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing Saturday. …

“This is a sign that both countries relations are improving and developing, and that progress is being made,” Hu told Abe, according to a pool statement released to reporters today. “China-Japan relations will be at this important juncture for some time and it is important that both countries’ leaders work toward developing relations in the right direction.” …

“We will continue to talk about the East China Sea,” Huang said, “and we’ll make the East China Sea an area of peace.”

Japan has urged China to stop exploration in the area until the two energy-hungry nations can set up a system for joint use of the reserves.

Japan earlier this month filed a protest with Beijing about Chinese activity in the area after detecting flames from an apparent burn-off of oil or gas — a possible sign that China was advancing its development of the disputed reserves.

The contentious issue of the Yasukuni Shrine was not discussed among the two leaders today, a Japanese government official told reporters on the condition he not be named.

This Week: China-Japan Ties Easing, Nakasone Broaches Nuclear Japan

It’s been a news-filled week for Japan-China relations and Japan in general, leading up to the LDP election later this month.

Several signs that tensions between China and Japan may ease after Koizumi’s departure emerged this week.

  • Using the a signed commentary in the People’s Daily overseas edition, the Chinese government demanded Abe Shinzo take a stand on shrine visits, writing Thursday, “Perhaps the strategists and advisers at Abe’s side see this strategy of ambiguity as a success, but they appear to have forgotten the lesson that sincerity can vanquish a hundred tricks. … Abe must ultimately use facts to demonstrate whether he’s truly serious about relations with China.” [The Reuters story apparently refers to this People’s Daily commentary, which is hard to interpret because of a rough translation.]
  • It is unclear whether he was responding to this specific call (I suspect not), but Abe said in a news conference he did not believe a fresh Japanese war apology was necessary from him as a new prime minister.
  • On Friday, Abe said he intended to meet with top Chinese and South Korean leaders at the November APEC meeting to calmly discuss political problems such as Yasukuni visits (「(靖国神社参拝などの)政治問題が拡大しないように冷静に対応するための会談だ。」). He added that he thinks China is coming to realize that “playing the Yasukuni card” was a mistake. (From a Japanese language Yomiuri Shimbun report.)
  • An English language Kyodo dispatch reported that Yomiuri had said more: That report said Abe will likely skip a Yasukuni visit during the fall festival in October to smooth relations with China before the meeting.
  • Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan said President Hu Jintao expressed the desire that China and Japan commit to peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Repeating well-worn phrasing, Tang also said, “We will adhere to the principle and make joint efforts with Japan in pushing ahead bilateral exchanges and cooperation in various fields and properly handling the existing problems and obstacles.” “Properly handling” is a key phrase, which has been used before to admonish Japanese leaders over textbooks and Yasukuni Shrine. The report appeared in the Chinese official press.An AFP report added that Tang had said that a “wise decision” on Yasukuni was a precondition for China to consider a November meeting with Abe.
  • The first “working level” financial talks between China and Japan since 2002 were held this week. AFP reported that an official gave the dubious excuse of “scheduling difficulties” as the reason that the annual talks had been held up. It is widely believed that such summits were stopped over Chinese objections to Koizumi’s shrine visits, and with some research, it may be possible to find reports where this was said publicly for these particular meetings, contradicting the new statement.

In other news, a new report issued by former Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone Yasuhiro’s think tank, the Institute for International Policy Studies, proposes that Japan study the possibility of obtaining its own nuclear capabilities. I have not read the report, “Japan’s National Image in the 21st Century,” but a Japan Times article reported that Nakasone acknowledged that Japan is protected by what many call the U.S. nuclear umbrella, but he said it is unclear whether the umbrella will remain.

Indeed, as Japan strengthens itself, the United States may put less emphasis on protecting Japan. It is unlikely, however, that U.S. strategic interests in the region will diverge from those of Japan in the near future. My question is, how much study does it really take for Japan to create nuclear weapons, given its high scientific capabilities and prominent use of nuclear power? Since it is a virtual certainty that Japan could produce a nuclear deterrent quickly in a pinch, Nakasone is likely attempting to guide Japan in a hawkish direction to the extent that he still has influence.

China and South Korea Appear Ready to Deal With Abe

You could say I’m behind, not yet having addressed Abe Shinzo’s official announcement that he’s running for LDP president, and the more important announcement that he would get behind constitutional revision full-force as prime minister. “I’d like to draft a new constitution with my own hands,” he said.

In fact, top LDP officials have said publicly for months that the U.S.-imposed “Peace Constitution” should be revised to more accurately reflect present day military realities. Certainly, the existence of the Self Defense Forces and Japan’s status as the fourth largest military spender in the world betray the reality that Japan does not adhere to Article 9 of that constitution, in which it “forever” renounces force or the threat of force as an instrument of foreign policy and bars the maintenance of armed forces. That Abe came out in support of a change is no surprise, and it’s probably not a bad idea.

What’s surprising is that regional reaction seems to be subdued. My experience in reading public rhetorical exchanges from across the East China Sea led me to expect a firm negative response to the revision; I expected that the Chinese regime would hail this change as part of a “new rise in Japanese militarism.” I expected a similar response from South Korea.

On the contrary, China’s state-controlled media have been mostly silent (from what I can see in English) on Abe’s announcement, with only a straight news-style report from Xinhua. Meanwhile, South Korea has invited Abe to meet with Roh Moo Hyun, who has refused to meet with Koizumi since November over his Yasukuni visits.

Abe has said that improving regional ties is a key goal of his presumed premiership. A Voice of America online article notes that this common-sense sentiment is not unique to Abe. Although Foreign Minister Aso Taro has essentially no chance of winning election, he has weighed in, saying that personality differences between Koizumi and regional leaders were the problem, not his shrine visits. (This makes sense from a man who is perhaps more of a nationalist than Koizumi and who advocates the re-nationalization of Yasukuni.) The finance minister, Tanigaki Sadakazu, another long-shot LDP candidate is the only candidate to say he would not visit the shrine as prime minister. Japanese finance ministers, who need to work with Chinese and South Korean counterparts even in a tense diplomatic climate, tend to be less controversial internationally.

No one knows whether Abe will continue visiting the shrine, but the mere change of leadership gives all sides the opportunity to recast the Yasukuni issue, which had been mired in Koizumi’s rhetoric since 2001. It is by no means inconceivable that Abe will visit the shrine and improve ties with China and South Korea. If the debate is reframed so that no one has to go back on any strong public stances, then there is a great deal of diplomatic wiggle room in Northeast Asia.

Japanese Foreign Minister Machimura Nobutaka acknowledged that fact Sunday, saying: “The Japan-China relationship is not so simple that it does not go anywhere unless we decide what is right on the Yasukuni issue.” Machimura sees a Japan–China summit as possible as early as November, at the APEC meeting.

One thing is for certain, Yasukuni has been no one’s litmus test in the selection of Abe. It has stayed mostly out of the picture, and we will have to wait and see what happens to the site’s symbolic significance following Koizumi’s departure.

Aso Says He Would Improve Ties With China and S. Korea

The same day that he declared his candidacy for LDP president (and presumably prime minister) Japanese Foreign Minister Aso Taro said he would work to improve ties with China and South Korea if he becomes prime minister. Aso is viewed as a long-shot candidate in the Sept. 20 election, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Abe Shinzo the presumptive winner.

“Having no meetings between leaders at all is a distorted form of diplomacy and we must correct this,” Aso said, according to Reuters. Aso has been more flexible than Abe on the Yasukuni Shrine question. He has even proposed that the shrine be re-nationalized as a secular war memorial. Some have remarked that the proposal is insane, but to my mind, Aso has apparently been relatively shrewd in his handling of the Yasukuni issue. By renationalizing the shrine, the government would wrest control of the symbolic site from the private Shinto authorities who enshrined the war criminals in the first place and currently administer the controversial Yushukan war museum.

Meanwhile, Aso struck a familiar nationalist note when announcing his proposal, saying “the tens of thousands of soldiers who died crying ‘Long Life to the Emperor’ filled those words with deep emotion, so I strongly pray that the emperor can visit Yasukuni.” This last statement is no personal sentiment. The special status of Yasukuni Shrine as the place where the emperor, who was at the time considered holy, prayed for war dead was fundamental to its rise in importance during what Japan called the Greater East Asian War. When the Meiji authorities built the shrine on Kudan Hill, across the street from the imperial palace grounds, proximity to the emperor was key.

By taking control away from the Shinto authorities and at the same time encouraging an emperor’s visit, Aso might be appealing to both sides of the Yasukuni debate. Abe appeals only to the nationalists on the issue.
But there is still no indication that disenshrining the war criminals is possible, and even before he introduced this new plan, Aso was agitating for Emperor Akihito to visit the shrine. If Hirohito stopped visiting the shrine after it was tarnished by the war criminals (as was recently confirmed by newly available documents), why would Akihito reverse this decision?