TOKYO, 31 May 2005 — Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi claims to be following a Chinese sage, Confucius, but China and Korea think that Japan should better follow the example of Germany. This the crux of the problem between Japan and its neighbors. The justification which Koizumi provides for his Yasukuni shrine visits is based on a teaching of Confucius: “Condemn the offense, but pity the offender”. It is a part of the Japanese cultural traditions to honor the dead. But unfortunately this very act irritates both China and Korea, when this tradition is applied to Japanese war dead.
The Yasukuni shrine has been a symbol of Japanese militarism for 15 year (1931-1945), when Japan attacked China and waged war in the Pacific. This shrine was under the control of Ministry of Army and the Ministry of Navy during the war years. All Japanese soldiers went to war after first visiting and praying at this shrine. Class A war criminals are also enshrined here.
Since Chinese regard the Yasukuni shrine a center of Japanese spiritualism, explaining China’s reaction when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Yasukuni Shrine, Wang Xinsheng, professor of the History Department of Peking University said, “The Communist Party leadership and the Chinese Foreign Ministry must lodge a strong protest with Tokyo in such an event, or otherwise they will be in for severe criticism from an angry public.”
When Junichiro Koizumi became Japanese prime minister in 2001 and started paying visits to this shrine, China made it clear that there will be no meetings with Japan at summit level as long as Koizumi continued visits to the said shrine. The Chinese and the Japanese heads of government have met twice thereafter, but only on the sidelines of some international conference. Their last meeting was at Bandung.
The same message was given very rudely recently by Wu-Yi, the Chinese vice premier, who abruptly cancelled her scheduled meeting with Koizumi in Tokyo, just a few hours before the appointed time. Chinese officials later clarified that it was due to the Koizumi visits to the Yasukuni shrine. Even though successive Japanese prime ministers have made apologies on numerous occasions, all these apologies have fallen flat in the eyes of victims of Japanese aggression — the Koreans and the Chinese. They regard Yasukuni shrine visits as a contradiction of these apologies.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the war’s end, the statement of Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, made 10 years ago, is significant: “Japan ... caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. ... I express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.” Prime Minister Koizumi, who delivered a speech at the Asia-Africa summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bandung Conference on April 22, quoted this statement in an attempt at quelling anti-Japanese sentiments spreading in Asia.
But the day Koizumi was making apologies, 80 Japanese lawmakers visited the Yasukuni shrine including a Cabinet minister. Korea and China regard these visits as paying homage to the symbol of Japanese militarism.
To reduce the friction with its neighbors, a proposal was considered seriously at the highest level that the war criminals be enshrined elsewhere. Neither the shrine authorities agreed to it nor the ruling party members consented. The proposal was shelved.
In an interview with a German newspaper, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said, “Japan’s attitude does not match the universal value systems that are being pursued by mankind”. He described Germany’s efforts to overcome its past and improve relations with its neighbors as a tremendous accomplishment.
To normalize diplomatic relations with Poland, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt traveled to Warsaw in December 1970. At a monument dedicated to the Jewish victims of the Warsaw ghetto uprising of 1943, in a show of penitence, he dropped to his knees.
Japanese foreign minister says that there are a lot of differences between Japan and Germany. He said, “...the genocide of the Jewish people by Germany was a major criminal act...Germans could blame everything on the Nazis, by almost arguing that the Nazis were a different race of people than the Germans”.
But these arguments made no impact on Chinese masses whose anti-Japanese feelings erupted spontaneously. They are taught in their schools that about 300,000 Chinese were massacred in 1937 by Japanese Army, when it captured the then capital, Nanking. Thousands of Chinese and Korean women were made sex-slaves by the Japanese Army.
Such war scars cannot be eliminated just by apologies and by whitewashing these bitter facts in the Japanese government-approved history books, while, unlike Germany, the Japanese prime minister and the lawmakers show no sense of remorse or penitence by visiting a shrine, which is viewed as a symbol of militarism by the Chinese and the Koreans.
— Hussain Khan is a free-lance journalist based in Tokyo.
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