Once again, protests against Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s annual visit to the Yasukuni shrine are breaking out in China as well as South Korea. Koizumi’s insistence on paying homage to the war dead interred at Yasukuni, where convicted war criminals from World War II are among the buried, has been damaging relations with Japan’s neighbors for years. Indeed, Chinese President Hu Jintao continually affirms that he will not hold a summit with a Japanese prime minister who goes to Yasukuni, which most Chinese regard as a glorification of past Japanese aggression and colonialism.
Even some in Japan are becoming critical of Koizumi. While the public remains negative about Chinese outbursts against Japan, a recent survey indicates that more than 70% of Japanese view the current state of Japan-China relations as unacceptable. More people are not supporting Koizumi’s annual pilgrimage to Yasukuni, with seven former prime ministers jointly demanding that he refrain from the visits.
Yet Koizumi remains defiant. Moreover, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzu Abe, the front-runner to succeed him, has openly declared that he will continue to visit the shrine as prime minister. Foreign Minister Taro Aso, another possible successor to Koizumi, has called for the Japanese Emperor to pray at Yasukuni.
So pessimism appears to be settling in, and the deadlock over Yasukuni appears to be deepening. But the past can bring us more than just troubles of this kind. Even on the issue of Yasukuni, there are positive lessons to be learned.