Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Tokyo should not let shrine hold relations hostage

By Tom Clifford (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-11 08:41

After more than two years of a deepening freeze, relations between Beijing and Tokyo are currently undergoing a thaw. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held an ice-breaking meeting on Monday on the sidelines of the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in Beijing. But one thing that could turn relations back to the ice age is the Yasukuni Shrine.

Abe may have "three arrows" for the economy but his government has shot itself in the foot over the last month or so. Abe took office in December 2012 promising to bring discipline and clarity to Japan's often opaque politics. But these are turbulent times for his administration. Two cabinet ministers resigned in October, others are under fire, a further sales tax hike is proving unpopular and Japan's economic growth forecast has been cut for the fifth straight month.

All this can be turned around, and Abe's fortunes may rebound, but his second spell in office is increasingly reminiscent of his first stint as prime minister in 2006-07 which was marred by scandals among his ministers - several quit and one committed suicide. Abe himself resigned after just one year in the face of parliamentary deadlock, sliding support rates and ill health. His prime ministership, with so many twists and sub-plots, is resembling "Downturn Abe Part Two".

But it is the Yasukuni Shrine that symbolizes a mindset that is not appropriate for the 21st century. His suggestion that his visits to the shrine are a personal matter is as disingenuous as it is dissentious. Every country has the right to remember its fallen but that is not the Yasukuni's role. It is situated just beyond a moat that surrounds the Imperial Palace in Tokyo but no emperor has visited since 1975 when rumors began to surface that the souls of war criminals were going to be enshrined there. In 1978, in a secret ceremony, the souls of all 14 Class-A war criminals were enshrined at Yasukuni. It was not made public until 1979 for fear of a public backlash. Those convicted of Class-B and Class-C war crimes - including "crimes against humanity" - had already been added to the list of "deities".

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