[Column] Abe’s Poor Leadership Decision and the Growing Tension in Northeast Asia

Posted on : 2013-12-30 11:43 KST Modified on : 2013-12-30 11:43 KST
Decision by Japanese Prime Minister to pay respects at Yasukuni will only exacerbate regional tensions

By Roland Wilson

In Northeast Asia there is ever increasing tension over such deep-rooted, protracted and historical conflicts as the numerous territorial and island disputes between Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea; Japan’s lack of recognition and remorse over its colonial sex slave (comfort women) issue; China’s declared Air Defense Identification Zone (IDEZ); and the growing threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. Due to this tension, one would think that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would take a key leadership role and look at ways to resolve these difficult and complex issues in order to bring peace, stability and economic prosperity to the region. However, after Abe’s recent visit to the Yasukuni shrine that honors wartime leaders including 14 class A war criminals, many both inside and outside of the region wonder if Japan truly wants peace or if it is beginning to increase a brand of nationalism that is reminiscent of its violent colonial past.

There are some in Japan and abroad who liken Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine to U.S. Presidential visits to Arlington National Cemetery. However, the prevalent view by many Japanese historical revisionists is that Yasukuni renders Japan as a victim of U.S. aggression during WWII and similar to the peace museums of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, makes very little reference to Japan’s brutal history of colonialism. More importantly, Arlington is the final resting place for many Americans who fought to defend freedom, including those that fought against Japan’s tyranny. Unlike Yasukuni, t has never been a place to publicly or secretly add the remains of war criminals. If Abe truly wanted to comfort the souls of all war victims, show respect and not hurt the feelings of the people of Asia, especially in China and Korea, why would he visit this shrine instead of the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery’s tomb of the unknown soldier, which was recently visited by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel? Also, why after a year in office has he not attempted to make state visits or hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of South Korea and China, but has visited various other leaders in Asia?

Those that work to transform and resolve conflicts peacefully wonder why Japan continues to exacerbate tensions in the region over the Yasukuni shrine. It seems like a much better course for Japan would be to work with allies both inside and outside of the region to fully reconcile its past, and work toward mutually supportive goals in the region. Although it is difficult for any person or country to recognize historical transgressions, fully understanding and reconciling history similar to Germany while working to teach future generations how to not make the same mistake seems like a much better path. Another key step might be to strike the Class-A war criminals from the scrolls of Yasukuni, and create a national monument or museum that fully acknowledges Japanese aggression and atrocities, while writing historical textbooks that deal with the past instead of avoiding it.

Despite Prime Minister Abe’s apparent infatuation with history, as a leader and one that has talked about increasing economic ties and peace, one would hope that his words and actions would be consistent. Yet Abe seems to be taking Japan and the entire region in a precarious direction while greatly exacerbating tensions. One question that must be answered is if Abe truly wants peace and prosperity for Japan through Abenomics or is turning Japan in the direction of “Abenationalism.” Indeed, some countries in the past have turned to nationalism in the wake of either economic prosperity or decline, and perhaps Japan is also using this method of rallying domestic support.

The views presented in this column are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Hankyoreh.

About the Author: Roland B. Wilson is currently a Doctoral Candidate at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University focusing on East Asia conflicts, diplomacy, peace and humanitarian issues. For about 27 years, he worked and extensively wrote on Asia Pacific and Northeast Asian military, foreign policy, public diplomacy and conflict issues as both a former Marine and U.S. Government worker. He can be reached for comments at: roland_wilson@hotmail.com

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]


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