Koizumi sticks to war shrine visit plan


TOKYO, Reuters

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday refused to abandon a planned visit a Shinto shrine for Japan’s war dead, including some convicted war criminals, despite calls from mainland China and other Asian neighbors not to go.

“I want to visit (Yasukuni Shrine) with a feeling of respect and gratitude in my heart for those who died for their country,” Koizumi told a parliamentary panel.

“If people in China or Korea are displeased about that, then what is necessary is to impr Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday refused to abandon a planned visit a Shinto shrine for Japan’s war dead, including some convicted war criminals, despite calls from mainland China and other Asian neighbors not to go. ove our relationship and friendship in order to remove such a feeling,” he said.

“We would like to bring it to a point where … this is no longer a diplomatic issue even if the prime minister visits Yasukuni. I am definitely going to Yasukuni on August 15,” he said, referring to the anniversary of the end of World War II.

Mainland China has warned Koizumi, known for his nationalist tinge, not to pay homage at Yasukuni, which enshrines Japan’s 2.6 million war dead since the 19th century, including Class-A war criminals such as wartime premier Hideki Tojo.

“If Prime Minister Koizumi visits the shrine, it will gravely affect Sino-Japan relations,” mainland Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan told visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka in talks in Beijing last week.

Japan’s ties with mainland China, never easy, as well as with South Korea have been strained in recent weeks by a series of issues including Tokyo’s approval of history textbooks that critics say whitewash its wartime atrocities.

The question of visits to Yasukuni by Japanese prime ministers and Cabinet members has been an irritant in Tokyo’s ties with its Asian neighbors since then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone made an official visit there in 1985.

Nakasone has become a key backer of Koizumi’s agenda, which includes possible revisions to Japan’s post-war pacifist Constitution in order to legitimize its military and make it possible to aid Tokyo’s allies if they are attacked.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto also visited the shrine while in office, although technically in a “private capacity”.

Foreign Minister Tanaka, also queried by an opposition lawmaker on the touchy topic, said it was time to find a way to resolve the recurring diplomatic headache.

“Together with the younger generation, we need to think about how not to repeat this problem over and over again,” she told the parliamentary panel. “It is a very important issue.”

Domestic critics of such visits have noted that there are other ways to pay respect to the war dead, such as at a nearby memorial to an unknown soldier.

Some Japanese also oppose official visits to Yasukuni on the grounds that they violate the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.

But Koizumi, an apparent expert at judging how the public will react, may find his sky-high popularity ratings at home get a boost if he sticks to his plan despite diplomatic protests.

“Nakasone was criticized by China and South Korea and it became a big issue, so he didn’t go again,” Katsuya Okada, policy chief for the main opposition Democratic Party, said recently.

“In the current situation, if Koizumi goes despite criticism from China and South Korea, the people would support him.”