The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Ruckus in Tokyo Abe Stirs Controversy With Shrine Visit

Dressed to the nines and trailing media helicopters, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at last paid a visit to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. It was not his first visit there but it was the first by a sitting prime minister since 2006. The shrine, a monument to Japan’s fallen soldiers, is considered a symbol of Japanese wartime aggression by China and South Korea. Abe has repeatedly spoken of his desire to pay his respects at the shrine while in office, and Japan’s most conservative and hawkish prime minister in years finally got his wish today, only days after his government announced hefty upgrades to the country’s military.

Predictably, China and South Korea condemned Abe’s visit. China officially issued a “strong protest and severe reprimand” and a statement on the foreign ministry’s website added “it’s absolutely intolerable for the Chinese side.” Said the South Koreans: “Our government cannot help but deplore and express anger over the fact that Prime Minister Abe ignored the concerns and warnings of the neighboring countries and the world community and paid respect at the Yasukuni shrine, which glorifies Japan’s colonial rule and war of aggression.”

The US also issued a rare rebuke to Tokyo: “The United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors,” reads a statement on the Embassy’s website. Abe dismissed these concerns, saying, “Japan must never wage war again. This is my conviction based on severe remorse for the past. It is not my intention at all to hurt the feelings of the Chinese and Korean people.”

Nevertheless, Abe’s visit to Yasukuni comes at a tense moment in East Asia. China is in the midst of a remarkable expansion of naval and air forces and aggressively maneuvering to claim disputed territory in the East and South China Seas. Responding to this and other threats to Japan’s security, Shinzo Abe has stretched the spirit of Japan’s pacifist constitution to the limit by raising defense spending for the first time in years and building up Japan’s defense forces with new surveillance and marine defense units. Exacerbating these tensions by enflaming historical disagreements, Abe has made the region more dangerous, not less, and further estranged Japan from its neighbors.

Published on December 26, 2013 2:45 pm
  • Tim Godfrey

    Abe made some fairly strong statements to repudiate the myths spread by the Koreans and Chinese:

    “Some people criticize the visit to Yasukuni as paying homage to war criminals, but the purpose of my visit today . . . is to report before the souls of the war dead how my administration has worked for one year and to renew the pledge that Japan must never wage war again.”

  • TommyTwo

    “The United States is disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an
    action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors”

    Give me a break. This is classic “It’s never a good time” disingenuousness. If the situation were all hunky-dory, Abe would be criticized for the abrupt, out-of-nowhere introduction of discord in paradise. The current tensions were created mainly by a particular neighbor of Japan’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Abe’s thoughts were along the lines of “Might as well be hanged for a sheep…”

    As to the substance of the matter, while Japan’s wartime record was reprehensible, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are in no way an endorsement thereof. It is now almost the proverbial threescore years and ten since Japan has abjured aggression and has been establishing its bona fides. If I were a US diplomat, my response to Chinese complaints would not be the above claptrap but rather silence, and that only because my words would be very undiplomatic.

  • JeffWeimer

    I would file this under “Game of Thrones” myself.

  • http://www.federaleagent86.blogspot.com/ Federale

    Considering that the Chinese Communist Party spent WWII fighting the Chinese government rather than the Japanese, Red China’s objection to the visit is quite laughable. And in no way is Japan’s military buildup and defense of Japanese territory making the region less safe.

  • xbox361

    Honoring a country’s war dead should not be controversial. Acknowledging the wrongness of the war should go with honoring the dead.
    The Japanese showed bravery and depravity in conquering their neighbors. Do you erase the existence of this by ignoring it?