Fric­tion warn­ing

Ja­panese me­dia pre­dict leader will likely skip Ya­sukuni trip on Aug 15

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By PU ZHENDONG puzhen­dong@ chi­

Ten­sions in East Asia will rise if Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe vis­its the con­tro­ver­sial Ya­sukuni Shrine.

With the Aug 15 an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s de­feat in World War II loom­ing, con­cerns are mount­ing once again over whether Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and his Cabi­net mem­bers will visit the con­tro­ver­sial Ya­sukuni Shrine, a move that ob­servers say would ag­gra­vate re­gional ten­sions.

De­spite Abe’s per­sonal en­thu­si­asm for vis­it­ing the shrine, as shown in many of his pre­vi­ous state­ments, Ja­pan’s me­dia say that this time he is likely to skip the visit on Aug 15.

Mean­while, Wash­ing­ton has ex­pressed its con­cern at the prospect of an of­fi­cial visit by Abe, since this might “hurt US in­ter­ests”, ac­cord­ing to a re­port is­sued on Fri­day.

The Ya­sukuni Shrine hon­ors 2.5 mil­lion Ja­panese war dead, in­clud­ing 14 top war crim­i­nals con­victed by an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal. China and the Repub­lic of Korea view Ya­sukuni as a sym­bol of Ja­pan’s past mil­i­tarism and have con­demned pre­vi­ous vis­its to the shrine by Ja­panese lead­ers and law­mak­ers.

Liu Jiangy­ong, a Ja­panese stud­ies ex­pert at Ts­inghua Univer­sity, said that it is still too early to pre­dict whether Abe will visit the shrine, be­cause the prime min­is­ter, con­fronted by do­mes­tic and for­eign op­po­si­tion, may not even have an an­swer him­self.

“How­ever, Abe still has other ways to ex­press his wor­ship at the shrine, such as by en­cour­ag­ing other Cabi­net mem­bers to do so and by en­trust­ing of­fer­ings to other of­fi­cials who are sent,” Liu said.

Abe’s de­ci­sion to stay away from the shrine could be seen as part of his ef­forts to avoid fur­ther ten­sions with Bei­jing and Seoul, which were vic­tims of Ja­pan’s wartime ag­gres­sion, two Ja­panese govern­ment sources were quoted by AFP as say­ing.

Ob­servers said that Abe’s de­ci­sion on whether to visit the shrine on the an­niver­sary should not be con­sid­ered a bar­gain­ing chip in terms of re­ju­ve­nat­ing bi­lat­eral ties.

Gao Hong, a Ja­panese stud­ies pro­fes­sor at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences, said that the cur­rent dead­lock in China-Ja­pan re­la­tions was mainly due to a se­ries of mis­takes that the Ja­panese gov­ern­ments made over the Diaoyu Is­lands in the East China Sea, an is­sue that should be kept sep­a­rate from the shrine visit.

“Whether or not to visit the shrine means whether Abe and the Ja­panese politi­cians can cor­rectly un­der­stand his­tory, while the re­cov­ery of Sino-Ja­panese ties hinges on whether Abe will make sub­stan­tial pol­icy change over dis­putes in the East China Sea,” Gao said.

In July, Abe said that he would not pre­vent Cabi­net mem­bers from pay­ing their re­spects at the shrine on Aug 15. “Each Cabi­net mem­ber should de­cide at his or her own dis­cre­tion,” he said.

To­momi Inada, Ja­panese State Min­is­ter for Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­forms, on Thurs­day re­ceived ap­proval from the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice af­ter she voiced her in­ten­tions to visit the shrine, sources said. She is also the first mem­ber of the Abe Cabi­net to de­cide to make the pil­grim­age to the shrine on that day.

Abe, tak­ing of­fice for the sec­ond time in De­cem­ber, did not visit Ya­sukuni dur­ing his first term as prime min­is­ter from 2006 to 2007. He later ex­pressed his re­grets at not hav­ing vis­ited the shrine.

In May, Abe de­fended ear­lier lead­ers’ vis­its to the shrine, say­ing, “it is quite nat­u­ral for a Ja­panese leader to of­fer prayer for those who sac­ri­ficed their lives for their coun­try”.

On Fri­day, Wash­ing­ton ex­pressed con­cerns over the con­se­quences of Abe’s po­ten­tial visit, say­ing vis­its to the con­tro­ver­sial shrine could in­crease ten­sion in the re­gion, Ja­pan’s Kyodo News Agency re­ported.

A US re­port ti­tled “Ja­panUS Re­la­tions: Is­sues for Congress” was re­leased by the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice, a think tank that pro­vides pol­icy and le­gal anal­y­sis to the US Congress.

Re­fer­ring to sharp re­ac­tions from China and the Repub­lic of Korea to pre­vi­ous vis­its to Ya­sukuni by in­flu­en­tial politi­cians, the re­port said, “Com­ments and ac­tions on con­tro­ver­sial his­tor­i­cal is­sues by Prime Min­is­ter Abe and his cabi­net have raised con­cern that Tokyo could up­set re­gional re­la­tions in ways that hurt US in­ter­ests.”

“Abe’s ap­proach to is­sues like the so-called ‘com­fort women’ — sex slaves from the World War II era, his­tory text­books, vis­its to the Ya­sukuni Shrine that hon­ors Ja­pan’s war dead will be closely mon­i­tored by Ja­pan’s neigh­bors as well as by the United States,” it said.

Since July’s elec­tion for the up­per house of Ja­pan’s par­lia­ment, or Diet, which ce­mented the Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party’s reign, Abe has called on sev­eral oc­ca­sions for the re­vival of frozen ties be­tween Bei­jing and Tokyo, in­clud­ing a pro­posal for a sum­mit with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

Li Xiushi, a Ja­panese stud­ies re­searcher at the Shang­hai In­sti­tutes for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, said a two-faced Abe is cre­at­ing il­lu­sions in terms of mend­ing re­la­tions with China.

“On one hand, he wants to strengthen the con­tain­ment of China in the global arena. ... On the other hand, he wants to pre­tend to the in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic au­di­ence: ‘See how good my at­ti­tude is. I’m will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate. Only China is the tough one.’” Li said in a Reuters re­port.

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