Japanese PM’s Comments on War Criminals Raise Concerns in Asia
The new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda opened his term in office with a very distressful statement on a theme that is most sensitive in all Asia, that of the war Japanese criminals during the WWII. Thus, Noda said he did not believe that Class A Japanese war criminals would qualify for such a status under Japanese law. He has repeated this stance earlier this month, causing the Chinese and the South Korean, which were directly affected by the Japanese military occupation during that war, to react to such statements.
At a press conference on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the South Korean foreign ministry hinted to the declarations made by Nado, by saying that South Korea was looking forward to having future mature relations with Japan, as the government of this country looks fairly at the past.
The statement Nado made fueled the fears that he may decide to go to the Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto shrine in Tokyo, that lists in a Symbolic Registry of Divinities the names of some 2,466,000 people who fought and died on behalf of the Emperor of Japan, especially during wartime. Among those enshrined, there are 14 names considered Class A war criminals, executed after being found guilty by military tribunals of the Allied Forces, and enshrined in 1969, after their case has been intensely debated.
The Imperial House of Japan released a memorandum in 2006, by which it was said that the presence of Class A war criminals at the Yakusuni Shrine was the reason why the emperor Hirohito never visited until he died in 1989.
There have been complains about the presence of Class A criminals at the shrine, but the officials argued that once enshrined, the destinies of the kami (the enshrined) become intertwined and it is impossible to remove them.
Soon after the war, in 1946, an International Military Tribunal for the Far East, also known as the Tokyo Trials or the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, separated the war criminals into three classes: Class A criminals, comprising those who participated in a conspiracy to start and wage a war; Class B, reserved to those who committed random crimes against humanity, and Class C, reserved to those who planned, organized, authorized or failed to prevent crimes against humanity.
28 Japanese military and political leaders were charged with committing Class A crimes, and 5,700 with Class B and C crimes. 13 such tribunals were held in China, and 504 were convicted, out of which 149 have been executed.
Emperor Hirohito and the Imperial House members were not charged with Class A crimes because the American occupants of Japan thought they could implement the changes better, if they used the members of the monarchy. There were people who were charged but never brought to trial, such as Nobusuke Kishi, who then became prime minister, or Yoshisuke Aikawa, who founded a powerful Japanese company.
Over the past decades, some Japanese prime ministers have visited the shrine, pleasing the nationalists and conservatives at home, but worrying and antagonizing the Asian neighbors, whose countries had to suffer because of Japan’s imperial ambitions.
Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister between 2001 and 2006, visited the shrine more than a dozen times, bringing the relations with China and South Korea on the verge of stalemate.
No prime minister has visited it since 2006, allowing the economic relations of their country with the neighbors to constantly improve.
Chinese state-run agency Xinhua presumes to lecture the new prime minister on what his stance should be on the shrine, warning that “no Japanese prime minister should visit it,” because it reminds of Japan’s imperialist ambitions.
Nado’s cabinet, the Chinese leaders tell the Japan’s PM through the voice of Xinhua, must carefully manage the relation with China, so that historical resentment not be resuscitated.
Even though the PM chose not to get anywhere near the shrine, China and Japan have their set of problems, some of them very serious, dealing with national territory, such as the deserted islands of Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands.
Since 2006, no Japanese PM lasted more than a year, and there are estimated that Nado will not be an exception, though he is considered a man of dialogue and compromise.11