“Tokyo Panic” to fuel nationalist backlash?

In three days, the Tokyo stock market lost almost $400 billion in value. (ABC, Jan. 20) The crash comes at a moment of converging multiple crises for the Japanese state. On Jan. 19, some 800 protesters, mostly connected to Shinto shrines, gathered in Tokyo to protest government plans to move toward allowing women to assume the imperial throne. The ruling Emperor Akihito has two sons, Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino. The elder has only one daughter, Princess Aiko, born in 2001. The younger has two daughters. (UPI, Jan. 20)

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, in his likely last address to parliament as premier, pledged to mend fences with China (Reuters, Jan. 20) The Chinese, however, don’t seem to be buying it. An editorial from the Chinese news agency Xinhua:

More Shrine visits — a wrong path for Japan’s LDP
TOKYO – A recently passed position statement by Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) calls on its members to continue visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. As a result, the Sino-Japanese relationship, already in its most difficult times, is likely to face more challenges.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has visited the controversial war shrine in five consecutive years since taking office in 2001, leading to a most strained bilateral relations since the two neighbors normalized their diplomatic ties in 1972.

A wise choice for the LDP would be to repair Japan’s damaged relations with China. However, the adoption of such a position statement means that the ruling party has decided to take the other path.

The LDP’s decision to encourage the Yasukuni Shrine visits can not be separated from Koizumi, who claimed that paying respects to the shrine which honors 14 class-A Second World War criminals is “a spiritual thing” and “a personal matter.”

Each of the 14 class-A war criminals in the Yasukuni Shrine is a symbol of Japanese militarism in the aggression against other Asian countries. The introductory words written in the Shrine not only openly glorify the invasion and atrocity of the war, but even call it “a war to liberate Asia.” Yet Koizumi says paying respects to the shrine is an internal affair which other countries should not interfere in.

Koizumi’s stance on this issue has shaken the political foundation of Sino-Japanese relations and ushered in a wintry period in the two countries’ diplomatic ties. Who can tell where the LDP position statement encouraging more shrine visits will lead the Sino-Japanese ties to?

Whether to visit the war shrine is a matter of black and white to Japanese politicians, which reflects how Japan views the history and can affect Asia’s future peace and stability.

A number of Japanese statesmen of insight have expressed their concern about the status of Sino-Japanese relations and called on Koizumi to make efforts to improve them.

Former Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and former Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura have voiced their criticism recently. It is widely believed that the Yasukuni Shrine aims to justify the part of history when Japan invaded its Asian neighbors, they said. Since Koizumi has called it “a wrong war,” it is therefore inexplicable why Koizumi, as the leader of the country, has to visit such a place.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki has expressed a similar opinion, saying the nation’s leader should “not damage relations with China and South Korea” on the issue of shrine visits.

A strained political relationship has retarded the two countries’ mutually beneficial economic cooperation. Several large cooperative projects between the two have been stalled. The Japanese economic circles have worried, fearing economic exchanges might be chilled by Japanese politicians’ insistence on war shrine visits.

Japan business federation Nippon Keidanren chairman Hiroshi Okuda has expressed the hope that post-Koizumi leader would endeavor to improve relations with China and South Korea. The federation’s deputy chairman Miyahara Kenji said it is hopeful that the next prime minister will work out a strategy to improve Asian diplomacy.

Obviously, Japanese business leaders have pinned more hopes on the future premier than on Koizumi. An active attitude to improve bilateral relations would warm up economic cooperation. The LDP’s policy to encourage shrine visits, therefore, helps to improve neither the political relations nor economic interaction between China and Japan.

It is through longtime joint efforts that Sino-Japanese relations have achieved sound development. Such relationship should be cherished and maintained by both sides. Koizumi and the LDP should quickly wake up to their errors and stop going further astray.

Meanwhile, while Japan is constitutionally barred from war, the country has 530 military troops in Iraq, in noncombatant reconstruction work. Insurgent kidnappers this week threatened to burn three civilian Japanese captives alive if Tokyo does not withdraw its troops. TV pictures aired by Al-Jazeera and rebroadcast during prime time in Japan showed the three hostages—two aid workers and a journalist—wide-eyed and moaning in terror as their black-clad captors held knives to their throats, shouting God is Great in Arabic. (AP, Jan. 21)

See our last post on the Sino-Japanese tensions, and other regional rivalries.