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Asian Diplomacy
Shinzo Abe Skips War Shrine Visit

On the 69th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe decided not to visit the controversial Yasukuni war shrine. The Washington Post reports:

Yasukuni memorializes almost 2.5 million Japanese who died in wars since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, but the overwhelming majority — about 2.1 million — died in World War II. They include 14 people convicted of class-A war crimes by a 1948 Allied tribunal, including Gen. Hideki Tojo, the prime minister who authorized the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

Abe went to the shrine in December, the first time in more than seven years that a Japanese prime minister had gone there, but instead of returning Friday, he sent a cash offering to the shrine with Koichi Hagiuda, an aide and lawmaker. The offering was ostensibly made by Abe as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party rather than as prime minister.

High-profile political visits to the shrine have long been a point of contention in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea. Japan’s neighbors see the shrine as glorifying Japan’s wartime abuses and militaristic past. International media have characterized Abe’s refusal to visit the shrine himself as a goodwill gesture toward China. However, both China’s state media and South Korea’s media condemned Abe’s decision to send an offering.

Abe is walking a tightrope here, wanting to do all he can to not unduly sabotage his potential meeting with China’s President Xi at the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (APEC), while at the same time staying true to his domestic image as a tough, unapologetic leader. Domestically, he must have figured that he had enough clout to pull off this kind of mild pivot without costing himself much. After all, he did visit the shrine last December, earning censure not only from South Korea and China, but also the United States. As for the current complaints coming from China over him sending offerings, he must at least be counting on his message having been received, if not openly acknowledged: let’s talk.

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