J. Berkshire Miller: Abe's Unhelpful Historical Interventions

tags: World War II, war crimes, Japan, CNN.com, Yasukuni Shrine, Shinzo Abe, J. Berkshire Miller



J. Berkshire Miller is a fellow on Japan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Pacific Forum. The views expressed are his own.

“Japan is back,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced to a packed room at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington back in February. The remarks came during his first visit to the United States since he returned to power in a landslide election in December. But while Abe’s aggressive stimulus policies have sent his approval ratings soaring at home, Japan’s neighbors have been watching much more warily....

..[M]ost troubling development has been the visits of four cabinet ministers, most notably deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, to Yasukuni Shrine. Abe refrained from visiting, instead choosing to donate a masakaki tree branch to the shrine. But the symbolism of government ministers visiting a site where Class A war criminals are enshrined has enraged not just China, but also South Korea, which urged the Japanese government “to immediately halt anachronistic acts oblivious to the past history and take responsible measures based on the correct recognition of the history to recover trust from neighboring countries.” South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung Se also canceled a scheduled trip to Japan in response to the move, while Beijing accused Japan of “denying” its history through such actions.

These visits, though, surely did not come as much of a surprise. Abe visited the shrine last October, when he was leader of the opposition, saying his intention was “to show respect to the spirits of the war dead who gave their lives for the country.” And Abe took a defensive line in response to the virulent criticism from Seoul and Beijing, stressing that his cabinet “will not yield to any kind of intimidation” and pointing to the “freedom to express one’s respect and worship the precious souls of the war dead.”...



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