Li Ruiyou: Why worship at shrine to war criminals?

The Yasukuni Shrine. Picture: Complimentary
The Yasukuni Shrine. Picture: Complimentary
Share this article
Have your say

By paying homage at the Yasukuni shrine, Japan’s PM is sending out a signal that should worry the world, says Li Ruiyou

SINCE 26 December, 2013, when the Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe paid homage at the Yasukuni shrine, a great deal of anger and condemnation has showered on him by the peoples and governments of China, South Korea and other Asian countries. Even Japan’s ally, the United States, said it was “disappointed that Japan’s leadership has taken an action that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbours”. The South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, has condemned Mr Abe’s visit and made clear she refuses to hold any high-level summit with him.

Why has Mr Abe’s visit to the Shrine caused so much outrage and strong opposition, even condemnation? What is it about the Yasukuni shrine that makes it so annoying and irritating to China, South Korea and some other Asian countries?

Mr Abe’s homage to the shrine has harmed and bullied the feelings of the people of those nations victimised by Japanese aggression in the Second World War. Why? Because the Yasukuni shrine honours 14 Class-A war criminals among the 28 Japanese political and military leaders convicted in 1946 by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.

The shrine was the spiritual instrument and symbol of Japanese militarism in its war of aggression and colonial rule during the Second World War, which inflicted extreme brutalities on the Asian nations, including the Nanjing Massacre and many other atrocities. China suffered as many as 
35 million casualties and $600 billion in direct and indirect losses. But the shrine still openly claims that aggression is “justified” and 14 Class-A war criminals are “heroes”.

The war museum next to the shrine portrays Japan’s conquest of East Asia as an effort to save the region from the imperial advances of the colonial western powers. By paying homage to such a shrine in his capacity as Japanese prime minister, there is no mistaking the fact that Mr Abe is whitewashing the criminals of the war of aggression.

Nearly 70 years after the end of the war, Japan still fails to correctly treat its past aggression, to say nothing of its failure to officially apologise to the victimised nations, as the German chancellor Willy Brandt did. The people of the victimised countries find it hard to not be mad at Mr Abe’s behaviour.

What is more, Mr Abe’s militarist attitude has made the victimised nations of Japanese aggression during the war worried and wrathful about the rising militarism in Japan today. Since taking office in 2012, Mr Abe has been unremorseful about Japan’s militarist past and makes no apologies for it. He openly questions whether his country should be defined as an “aggressor”, and has done his utmost to beautify its history of militaristic aggression and colonial rule.

On top of all this, he also wishes to amend Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution. His arguments and actions, especially his recent homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, ineluctably, or even purposely, embolden the resurrection of militarism in Japan – something which is certain to trigger the worry and wrath of the neighbouring countries. Mr Abe’s homage once again rubs salt into the wound of some Asian nations, and reminds them of how much more Germany has done to atone for its past.

When asked about Mr Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni shrine, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “All nations must honestly live up to their role in the horrible events of the 20th century. Only on the basis of this honest accounting is it possible to build a future with former foes. This is a conviction Germany takes to heart and which in my opinion applies to all states.”

Unfortunately, Mr Abe has refused to assume historical responsibilities or own up to Japan’s past crimes. Instead, he has gone so far as to worship Class-A war criminals and to have approved a new five-year defence plan that calls for the acquisition of drones and amphibious assault vehicles to strengthen the Japanese military – yet another step away from its post-war commitment to pacifism.

These actions are deeply offensive to the victimised nations which cannot stop thinking: Is Mr Abe determined to revive the power of a Japan with a strong militarist spirit?

Mr Abe talks a lot about peace, but his actions apparently have taken the other direction. Should he really want peace with his neighbouring countries, why can’t he face up squarely to the history of Japanese aggression and make sincere apologies officially to its victimised nations, as the German chancellor did?

• Li Ruiyou is the Chinese consul general in Edinburgh