During the lowest ebb in Sino-Japanese relations for several years, it is little surprise that Japanese politicians have once again taken to visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which venerates the souls of thousands of that country’s war dead. The controversy comes from the fact that the remains of several convicted war criminals reside their, infuriating Japan’s neighbours (primarily China and South Korea) who suffered harsh barbarisms at the Imperial Army’s hands during WWII.
Shinzo Abe, the former Prime Minister and newly-elected head of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) opposition, is the most high-profile visitor in recent days. Ironically, Abe avoided visiting the shrine during his one year in office in 2007, keenly aware as he was of the damage such political stunts caused to relations with China. However, the Abe that has returned to prominence is more of an overt nationalist, to an extent not seen since the days of the charismatic Junichiro Koizumi. Abe was re-elected to head the LDP off the back of his condemnation of Chinese claims to disputed islands in the East China Sea and his promise that the Japanese would not kowtow any further to their erstwhile enemy. He, like many in Japan, is fed up with the unrelenting insistence of Chinese political leaders that ordinary Japanese should feel “guilty” for their country’s past transgressions.
Contemporary Japanese politicians have apologised on countless occasions for their role in WWII and their brutal occupation of China and South Korea in particular. Whilst LDP politicians have in the past made unwise and incendiary comments regarding Japan’s wartime history (including the denial that Japan enforced sexual slavery or carried out gruesome biological experiments on prisoners) the Chinese continue to judge each miscalculated comment as if it were a true reflection of the Japanese populace’s sentiments.
What is wrong with Japanese politicians visiting their war dead and paying their respects? Leaders the world over do it in their respective countries. Who is to say that some of those feted “heroes” did not commit some horrific deed within the tragic confines of war? If the Chinese want to continue looking to the past suffering of their people, they need look little further than the disgraceful Maoist regime which gave a new meaning to the word genocide.
Whilst history continues to cast a sombre shadow over Sino-Japanese relations, the future of the East Asia region will remain tense. Japanese lawmakers need to consider their actions when making “personal” visits to a sensitive national monument. The Chinese need to abandon hypocrisy and start to look introspectively at the historical sufferings of their people before seeking to attribute blame to outsiders.