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China Enraged As Japanese Lawmakers Visit Controversial Shrine

Japan Marks 68th Anniversary Of WWII Surrender

Japan’s conflicted view of its own history was again on display today when the internal affairs minister and more than one hundred other lawmakers visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The shrine, where the souls of Japan’s war dead, including convicted war criminals, are interred, is seen by Japan’s neighbors as a monument to Japanese aggression in WWII. China, predictably, voiced outrage as the lawmakers paid their respects.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has said before that he regrets not visiting the shrine during his first spell as prime minister, again stayed away. Instead, he sent a ceremonial plant as a respectful offering. By staying away Abe likely hoped to assuage some anger in China and elsewhere that his administration is more militaristic than in past years. It didn’t work.

“The Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol and spiritual tool of Japanese militarism,” said a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry. “It consecrates monstrous crimes committed against Asia’s victimized peoples, including those in China, by 14 Class A war criminals….This is a major matter of principle bearing on the foundation of Sino-Japanese relations. [The visits by Japanese lawmakers] challenge the end result of World War Two, as well as the post-war international order.”

Such a strong showing of respect at the shrine and signs that Japan is building a stronger navy and army are building worries in neighboring capitals, and contributing to an atmosphere of apprehension around Asia. China, Japan, South Korea, and others are racing to build stronger militaries. It doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

[Yaksuni Shrine photo courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • Andrew Allison

    With respect, one would expect that, as an International Relations guru and Professor of History, WRM would be more nuanced. It’s indisputable that Japanese forces committed acts of atrocity, but the Yasukuni Shrine is, in effect, Japan’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Are we, given My Lai, Abu Ghraib, etc., in any position to cast stones?
    As to the geopolitical significance: VM has posted frequently on the responses of counties in the neighborhood to a bellicose China. While not condoning Japan’s past transgressions, I think that, in light of the communist regime’s death toll, the appropriate response to China’s huffery would be, “You must be joking”.

    • EH

      You are completely wrong. The equivalent of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier would be Chidorigafuchi or maybe Dai Heiwa Kinen Tō. Those enshrined at Yasukuni are definitely known and they are not just soldiers.

      • Andrew Allison

        I stand corrected as to the nature of the shrine, but submit that the message to China was clear.

    • f1b0nacc1

      To compare the war criminals of the Japanese Army in WWII (and that is who is enshrined at Yasukuni) to those responsible for Abu Ghraib or My Lai is an obscenity. Lets remember that William Calley was tried and imprisoned for his role at My Lai (and numerous others in the chain of command had their careers ruined, rightly so, for doing nothing about it), and while Abu Ghraib was an ugly incident, it is in no way comparable to the acts of murder and other atrocities that were commonly engaged in by the Japanese army in China and the Pacific.
      The Japanese have never come to terms with their WWII actions, not surprising in a shame-oriented society. Like it or not, the Chinese (who I have little love for on many levels) have some basis for complaint here. Is the Chinese leadership being cynical about using this incident, of course, are they entirely wrong…no

  • jeburke

    Well, you know, it’s 68 years after the war, so no one in authority in Japan today was out of elementary school when the crimes were committed and most were not born. In any case, the most dangerous militarism in Asia today is China’s. I, for one, am glad that the Japanese have begun to come out of their pacifist shell, as I’m not eager to see the US continue to shoulder responsibility for the defense of Japan for a century.

    • Andrew Allison

      For today’s Japanese to deny the sins (the rape of Nanking, the Korean comfort women or the sheer barbarism exhibited during WW-II) of its Fathers is, of course, unacceptable. As is that of China, with a human rights record which leaves Japan’s in the dust to criticize Japan.

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