Shrine visit un­masks Abe Cabi­net’s true sen­ti­ments

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Shinzo Abe did in­deed make his­tory, of sorts, by be­com­ing the first Ja­panese leader to visit the me­mo­rial above the wreck­age of the USS Ari­zona in Hawaii and of­fer­ing his “sin­cere and ev­er­last­ing con­do­lences” to those who died 75 years ago when Ja­pan launched its sur­prise at­tack on Pearl Har­bor. Ap­par­ently, both the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter and the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent of the United States, Barack Obama, wanted to give the im­pres­sion that these for­mer foes are seem­ingly “tran­scend­ing re­crim­i­na­tory im­pulses” and putting be­hind them their his­tor­i­cal en­mity.

But does ex­press­ing con­do­lences in this way re­ally close the book?

Maybe Amer­i­cans have big­ger hearts than Ja­pan’s close neigh­bors — so big that sin­cer­ity does not mat­ter, and they are will­ing to ig­nore Abe’s at­tempts to wipe away other shame­ful events from that pe­riod of his coun­try’s past.

To many in China and the Repub­lic of Korea, at least, sin­cer­ity mat­ters a lot when it comes to Ja­pan’s ap­proach to its wartime past, since they bore the brunt of its sav­age am­bi­tions.

It may not mat­ter that Abe would prob­a­bly not have vis­ited Pearl Har­bor had Obama not vis­ited Hiroshima and of­fered con­do­lences to those who died when the US dropped an atomic bomb on the city in 1945.

But it does mat­ter that these re­cip­ro­cal ac­tions stem not from a gen­uine de­sire to learn from the past but rather from their geopo­lit­i­cal need for each other.

That Abe’s trip was not un­der­taken with sin­cer­ity, or driven by any heart-felt re­pen­tance, is ev­i­dent from the visit of his de­fense min­is­ter to the no­to­ri­ous Ya­sukuni Shrine im­me­di­ately af­ter she re­turned to Tokyo from Pearl Har­bor.

To Ja­pan’s neigh­bors, To­momi Inada’s pil­grim­age to the shrine where Class-A World War II war crim­i­nals, some di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for Pearl Har­bor, are en­shrined, un­masks the true feel­ings of those cur­rently in power in Ja­pan.

There have been calls for Abe to visit Nan­jing in China, where the in­vad­ing Ja­panese troops mas­sa­cred hun­dreds of thou­sands of Chi­nese in 1937. But the util­i­tar­ian mo­ti­va­tion that drove him to Pearl Har­bor does not ex­ist here.

Nor would any con­do­lences be wel­come, when it is clear from the words and deeds of Abe and his col­leagues that any sym­pa­thy would not be sin­cere and sim­ply prof­fered to prac­ti­cal ends.

There­fore, in­stead of re­peat­ing that use­less plea to Abe, or count­ing on his ad­min­is­tra­tion to seek a historic spirit of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Bei­jing and Seoul had bet­ter con­cen­trate on ready­ing them­selves for a long-term re­gional land­scape fea­tur­ing a dis­rup­tive and em­bold­ened Ja­pan.

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