October 18, 2005

Koizumi grit, determination test China ties

However, analysts say such inflexibility might backfire in relations with China. Japan already depends heavily on its neighbor for economic growth, and China will become increasingly important as a market and production center. "He and others feel that if they concede on this, they will only have to concede on something else, so they are drawing a line in the gravel at Yasukuni," says Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan. "I think this truculent attitude is a big mistake, as Japan needs China more than vice versa."

Japan's troubles with its wartime past are magnified today by changing power relations in the region. China's rapid growth could make its economy bigger than Japan's in a couple of decades. The Chinese now see their country as the region's natural leader, and are loath to suffer what they feel is provocation from Japan.

Some of the problem lies with Yasukuni's keepers, who have made it hard for Japanese leaders to pay respects without offending other Asians.

Built in 1869, the shrine is the traditional venue to honor the roughly 2.5 million Japanese who have died in battle since then. Mr. Koizumi has said that he visits Yasukuni for this reason and to pray for peace -- and that he doesn't approve of Japan's past aggression. He made the latest of several apologies for World War II in August, expressing "feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology" for Japan's "colonial rule and aggression."

But the shrine is controversial, as it does more than just honor fallen Japanese. In the 1970s, Yasukuni enshrined 14 Class A war criminals, including wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, who were convicted by a 1948 tribunal. It also runs a museum that attempts to justify Japan's wartime aggression. This gives the impression that visiting the shrine amounts to condoning militarism.

To avoid this problem, a discussion group of top lawmakers in December 2002 proposed creation of a separate national war monument. However, no progress has been made because of opposition from the influential War Bereaved Families Association and LDP conservatives.

In Japan, business leaders are worried by possible boycotts of Japanese products or threats to Japanese personnel and businesses in China. The two countries are already arguing over rights to energy resources in the East China Sea.

"We are well aware that the shrine visits cause protests from neighboring countries, and could damage our national interests," said Kakutaro Kitashiro, chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (and chairman of IBM Japan, Ltd.), in a statement.


No comments: