Expressed Indignation but No Retaliation: Asia's response to the Yasukuni Visit
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
Summer vacation is over and yet again all too quickly. However, for the Koizumi administration, all the better. The past two weeks have been charged with loaded issues concerning Japan's controversial wartime past. PM Koizumi's visitation to Yasukuni Shrine on August 13 was covered the world around with unprecedented interest. This was both due to PM Koizumi's personal popularity and the efforts of highly organized mass based groups that mobilized in opposition to his visit honoring Japan's fallen soldiers since 1853, which include fourteen 'Class A' war criminals from World War II. Despite the increased pressure placed on the Japanese government from both foreign and domestic media sources and public opinion, governments throughout the Asia Pacific have been reluctant to retaliate in concrete ways. After voicing "indignation" and "deep regret" is seems as though its business as usual for the Asia Pacific.
The morning after PM Koizumi made his sudden but expected appearance at Yasukuni Shrine, protests broke out on the streets and in government buildings throughout the Asia Pacific. In front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Korea students screamed, "execute Koizumi and Japanese militarism," as they burned Japanese flags and urged people to boycott Japanese goods. In the Philippines, women protested Koizumi's visit saying, "his visit honors Japanese soldiers who raped women in the Philippines." Chinese Malay's voiced their anger exclaiming, "Koizumi is seeking a pact with murderers. He is shaking one hand with the angel and one with the devil. He talked about peace and yet paid respect to murderers." Many others stood in opposition in Vietnam, Australia, China and in Japan itself.
Officially, the Chinese and South Korean governments filed formal protests while Vietnamese and Filipino governments issued statements expressing concern and regret. Their complaints were strongly worded with Seoul saying, "we cannot find the words to express our concern that a Japanese Prime Minister would pay homage to war criminals who destroyed world peace and caused indescribable damage to neighboring countries." However, their apparent indignation resulted in no concrete measures of retaliation. In fact, both China and Vietnam acknowledged appreciation for Koizumi's words of "deep remorse and sincere condolence" towards neighboring Asian countries announced prior to his visit and Seoul agreed not to let political issues hamper the hosting of the 2002 World Cup.
In the absence of retaliatory measures, Japan's parliamentary promoters of a larger military role for Japan did not wasted any time to advance their program. On August 19 it was announced that the constitutional revision of the 1992 Peacekeeping Law would be discussed during the Fall Diet session.
It is difficult to identify the exact reasons why no official retaliatory measures were taken against Japan by neighboring countries after Koizumi's provocative and extremely offensive visit. There could be many reasons including the need for trade, aid, technological and scientific cooperation as well as investment. Or it could be something much deeper than that. For Koizumi, it is believed that his paying of homage will likely result in greater public confidence and in-party support towards his leadership. A backing thought necessary in the wake of his proposed reforms. However, as far as what it means to the Asia Pacific, we will have to wait and see how far Asia's mass based movements against Japan's wartime actions can influence government policy.
- BBC, "Koizumi's 'deep remorse' for war," August 15, 2001
- South China Morning Post, "Neighbours voice indignation but make no mention of retaliation," August 14, 2001
- Los Angeles Times, "Leader Stirs Anger with Shrine Visit," by Valerie Reitman, August 14, 2001
- Associated Press, "Japan Plans Peacekeeping Law Revision," August 19, 2001