It is not Japan’s disagreements on wartime history with China and South Korea, but supposed defiance to liberal world order based on the Atlantic Charter that really matters. The Yasukuni Shrine is called the War Shrine in the West as it honors war criminals in the Pacific War along with numerous unknown soldiers. The vital problem is the ideology of this shrine. I went tothe shrine on December 22, 2005 to see what it is, without paying tribute towar criminals. What struck me was not just Yasukuni made the case against the Tokyo Tribunal for war crimes, but praised the brainwash to innocent youngsters for suicide bombing under the name of divine emperor. This is exactly what Al Qaeda does today under the name of Allah.
The ideology of suicide bombing is a Dark Age creed, which is utterly unacceptable to any civilization of rationality and humanity since the Renaissance. Therefore, the problem is not whether winner or loser in World War II, nor do I endorse that Japan appease China and Korea. The focal point is simple. The Yasukuni ideology is completely incompatible with the universal value of human being. Remember, even Adolph Hitler did not adopt such barbaric and inhumane tactics. Only wartime Japan and Al Qaeda conducted organized and large scale suicide attacks under the name of the God. Japanese right wingers must bear it in mind. It is not foreign pressure and criticism that really matters, but in which position do the Japanese stand. Current Japan is at the heart of Western democracies fighting against the ideology of lunacy and hatred upheld by terrorists.
Like it or not, Japanese policymakers need to analyze the impact of Abe’s visit to Yasukuni on Asia-Pacific diplomacy. As widely known, Abe wants to “disentangle” Japan from the postwar world order to restore national pride. But his attendance to the ritual at the shrine is regarded as an act of legitimizing wartime militarism among Asian nations, particularly China and South Korea. Also, sore relationship with the United States is critical. The Bush administration tolerated Prime Minister-then Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Yasukuni, because they needed the coalition of the willing to topple Saddam Hussein. Under the Obama administration, America adopts strategic rebalance to Asia, and they are reluctant to accomodate Japan’s “unnecessary” clash with China and South Korea. From these points of view, Professor Aurelia Mulgan at the University of New South Wales, comments critically to Abe’s “self-satisfactory” visit to Yasukuni simply ruined security in East Asia (“Abe puts personal interests ahead of Japan’s at Yasukuni”; East Asia Forum,1 January 2014).
We should note that the Obama administration worked very hard to soothe vehement anti-Japanese postures by the Park administration of South Korea regarding the wartime comfort women issue. When Vice President Joseph Biden visited South Korea early December, he urged President Park Guenhye to improve relations with Japan. Abe’s conduct ruined such efforts (“Abe’s Yaskuni Visit Did not just Dissapoint, but Resented the US”;47 News; December 29, 2013). On the other hand, it is necessary to understand the background Abe’s visit to Yasukuni. Whether the Japanese prime minister attends a ritual at the War Shrine or not, tensions in North East Asia are growing worse. South Korea’s Park administration was moving toward increasingly pro-Chinese since the inauguration. China self-claims the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) around the Senkaku Islands to challenge US-Japanese maritime supremacy. Furthermore, Michael Auslin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, points out that Vice President Joseph Biden’s talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping early December appeared appeasing for Abe. Therefore, he argues that Abe resorted to preemptive action to demonstrate that Japan shall stand unapologetic to China and South Korea on history (“Japan OfficiallyEnters Cold War with China and Korea”; National Review Online; December 26,2013).
I shall not agree to Abe’s view on Yasukuni, but if his premise is right, the timing of the visit was very consummate. Abe paid tribute to war victims at Yasukuni including criminals on December 26, which exactly coincides with Mao Zedong’s birthday (“China to celebrate Mao'sbirthday, but events scaled back”; Reuters; December 25, 2013). As the Xi administration upholds Maoist resurgence in order to rectify growing social inequality and corruption, Abe’s Yasukuni ritual was extremely well planned to crack own inflammation of patriotic passion in China. I wonder why didn’t the media refer to this. Also, Japan took psychological advantage of helping South Korean army in South Sudan through offering bullets (“Japan supplies ammo to S. Korean military units in South Sudan”; AsahiShimbun; December 24, 2013). Furthermore, South Korea rejected to act with China to protest Abe’s tribute to war criminals. South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byungse said that Seoul must deepen strategic partnership with Japan and the United States to manage East Asian security, despite disagreements on wartime history (“South Korea Cautious of Allying with China over Yasukuni”; JijiPress; January 1, 2013).
Regarding Japan’s foremost diplomatic priority, which is the alliance with the United States, Abe settled long disputed Futenma Marine Base issue in Okinawa that was terribly mismanaged under the Hatoyama administration. From this point, Abe may have been confident of American tolerance to Yasukuni. Even if the White House and the Department of State were displeased with such nationalist posture, Abe could count on understanding demeanor from the military industrial complex. In view of defense cuts in the United States and Europe, Japan is a prospective market for the defense industry as it increases the defense budget to face off against growing threats of maritime ambition of China (“Boeing Gets $661M Defense Orders”;Zacks Equity Research; December 27, 2013). The focal export item to Japan is P8A anti-submarine patrol aircraft manufactured by Boeing, whose parts and equipment also come from other major defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Electric. So many defense firms are involved in this (“Chinavs. Japan: Will Boeing's New Submarine-Destroying Jet Get Battle Tested?”; MysteryFool; December 21, 2013).
Considering the above mentioned points, I would argue that Abe’s visit to the War Shrine was not necessarily reckless though opinion leaders both in Japan and abroad criticize it. As long as the military industrial complex is on his side, there is nothing strange if he thought the Obama administration’s aversion to nationalist posture was trivial. Rather, Abe’s conduct looks quite canny like Cardinal Richelieu. However, it seems that a crafty man has fallen oft into the snares of craft. The Yasukuni Shrine has an inherent problem with its fundamental values, and this is beyond Pacific War winner-loser standpoints.
Strangely enough, hardly any pro-Yasukuni politicians in Nagatacho try to explain why Yasukuni values are acceptable to the world today. Nor do Shinto priests at the War Shrine do so to improve accountability. Most symbolically, it is necessary to tell the difference between “Long live the Emperor!” and “Allah akbar!”. An ideology of suicide bombing under the name of the god shall not be accommodated, regardless of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. I do not have any objection to honor people who dedicated their lives to the nation. But the nature of current Yasukuni Shrine needs to be considered, before attending a ritual there. It is not the protest of China and South Korea, nor disappointment of the United States. What really matters is the implication of this shrine to a democratized Japan.