Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will most likely not risk a visit to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine during the country’s annual Spring Festival from April 21 to 23 ahead of the critical summit meetings with United States President Barack Obama, sources close to the premier revealed on Thursday. The most that can be expected from Abe would probably be to send a masakaki tree offering like he did last spring.
Abe and Obama are set to hold marathon summit meetings on April 24, with the negotiations toward the progress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Japan-U.S. security alliance at the top the agenda. Ahead of this critical juncture in Abe’s office, he is unlikely to put more pressure on himself by visiting the shrine that is linked to Japan’s wartime past. The last time Abe had visited the shrine on Dec. 26, he had caused a furor, angering regional neighbors Beijing and Seoul, which view the said shrine as a symbol of Japan’s past militarist aggression. To top that, Washington — Tokyo’s closest ally — gave a rare response to this historical conundrum by saying that it was “disappointed” by Abe’s visit. The masakaki offering would significantly communicate Abe’s efforts not to worsen relations with Beijing and Seoul, while also keeping his conservative image intact with his conservative support base. Obama will be traveling to South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines after his visit to Japan.
Periodic visits to the Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese politicians regularly anger China and South Korea, the main victims of Japan’s aggression in the Second World War. Emperor Hirohito stopped going to the shrine for precisely that reason. The Abe administration has been clear about its stance – the government leaves it up to each Cabinet minister on whether to visit Yasukuni or not. Abe, in light of the furor over his December visit to the shrine, said that specific visit was meant to make a pledge that Japan “must not wage a war again,” but he has not adequately communicated that message to Japan’s Asian neighbors.
[via Kyodo News]