Volume 19 Number 2
Why Japan Still Needs Humble Statesmen
01 April 2006

It is crucial for Japan's leader to win the trust of her neighbours. Prime Minister Kishi visited nine Asian- Pacific nations in 1957 to apologise for Japan's actions during the War.

IN A RECENT BOOK Japan's Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has been dubbed the man 'who has made diplomacy a fight'. Five Japanese who had been abducted by North Korean agents have been released as a result of his meetings with President Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. But talks to rescue many more abductees and to resolve North Korea's nuclear development issue have been deadlocked for several years. For the last two years, the top leaders of Japan and China have not talked to each other, because of Koizumi's yearly visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where 1 Class-A war criminals of World War II are honoured along with 2.5 million Japanese war dead.

The relationship between the two countries has been described as 'politically cold but economically hot' in recent years. Not long ago a mere 10,000 people a year travelled between the two countries, but now the number has risen to 10,000 a day. China has replaced the US as Japan's biggest trade partner. But now the economic temperature is cooling.

Last year there were mass anti-Japanese demonstrations in both China and South Korea, accusing Japan of refusing to face up to her past. China and the two Koreas have been opposing Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. This kind of political discord has caused such damage to businesses that the President of Keidanren (the Japan Federation of Economic Organisations), Hiroshi Okuda, last year made two secret visits to Beijing to meet Chinese President Hu Jin Tao.

Koizumi justified his visit to Yasukuni Shrine last October by saying, 'It must not be forgotten that today's peace is built on the sacrifices made by those who died in war. It is a matter of what one feels in one's own heart.' People outside Japan wonder if Koizumi accepts that Japan was the aggressor rather than the victim during World War II. He has also said he was convinced that the stronger the Japan-US alliance, 'the easier it will be to develop better relations with China and South Korea'.

Others see things differently. Prime Minister Abdullah of Malaysia, who hosted the first East Asia Summit in December 2005, said, 'We are concerned about the developing dichotomy in Japan-China relations, which we consider as one of the main pillars of East Asia co-operation.' There is growing concern on Capitol Hill and in the Bush administration about exhibits in the museum at Yasukuni that criticise the US embargos before the War and the US-led Tokyo tribunal after the War. President Bush himself is said to have spent much of his time with Koizumi in Kyoto in November urging him to improve relations with China. These acts come from a recognition that an isolated Japan in Asia could isolate America as well and that the worsening relationship between Japan and China could harm US national interests.

Growing nationalism and anti-Chinese sentiments among the Japanese public also have to be dealt with. The Cold War in East Asia which isolated China and North Korea in the 1950s postponed the acceptance by the Japanese people of their war responsibilities. Furthermore, repeated demands for apology and pacifism imposed from outside turned some Japanese against China. What has to be done to stop this political warfare?

An alterrnative non-religious nationa memorial for the war dead should be built, where all foreign leaders and citizens can pay their respects. Alternatively, the war criminals who are commemorated at Yasukuni should be enshrined separately elsewhere, so that visits by the Japanese emperor to Yasukuni, which have not taken place since 1975, can resume. This solution would mean the most for the families of the ordinary soldiers who died in the name of the Emperor.

Historians and World War II survivors from Japan, China and the US should make a study of war-time history and school textbooks covering this period, in order to narrow the existing gaps of perceptions between these countries. This programme should be backed fully by the governments concerned, so that its results can be used in school education and in civil society.

Cultural exchanges between neighbour countries in Asia should be strengthened. Mutual visits by young people, home stay programmes for high school students, sports exchanges, art exhibitions and music concerts are being considered. More concretely, there are plans for annual exchanges between China and Japan, involving 2,000 high school students.

Most crucial, however, is for Japan's leader to win the trust of our neighbours. Prime Minister Kishi visited nine Asian- Pacific nations in 1957 to apologise for Japan's actions during the War, and this was described as statesmanship with a humble heart. I hope that Kishi's grandson Shinzo Abe, the Chief Cabinet Secretary and the most likely candidate to succeed Koizumi in September, will follow his grandfather's example.

Yukihisa Fujita is a Vice Director-General of the International Department of the Democratic Party of Japan and a former Member of the Japanese Diet.

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