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"Drowning" of the Japanese premiere

How the actions of the Minister of Defense can cause questions to the head of government

7 December last year marked the 75 anniversary of Japan's sudden air raid on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. On that day, the United Fleet of the Japanese Empire, in one stroke, actually defeated the backbone of the US Navy in the Pacific. The then US President Franklin Roosevelt called 7 December the day of America's disgrace and declared war on Japan. Three quarters of a century later, 27 December 2016, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then US President Barack Obama jointly visited Pearl Harbor. This was done as a sign of the final reconciliation of the two countries, which turned from the worst enemies to the most important military allies. Abe's voyage to Hawaii was the answer to Obama's trip with the same purpose to Hiroshima in May last year.

"Drowning" of the Japanese premiere

Valery Kistanov

Head of the Center for Japanese Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies

Both in Hiroshima and in Pearl Harbor, both leaders paid tribute to the memory of the Japanese and Americans who died in fierce battles with each other, and also underscored the inviolable nature of their current military alliance. In addition, in Hawaii, the Japanese Prime Minister, expressing his condolences on those who died during the Japanese attack, said that Japan will never again unleash a war. 

It is noteworthy, however, that no one would never apologized - no Obama for the barbaric atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, neither Abe for pirate attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the "historic" nature of Abe's visit to Pearl Harbor the next day significantly tarnished as a result of visiting Defense Minister of Japan Tomomi Inada located in Tokyo Shinto Yasukuni Shrine. She accompanied Abe on his trip to Hawaii and went to the temple on his return to Tokyo. 

This temple has an ambiguous reputation both in Japan and abroad. In it, along with the souls of 2,46 million Japanese who died in the war, the memory of 12 condemned by the Tokyo Tribunal of "Class A" war criminals, including General Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister during World War II, is honored. In China, South Korea, and also in the countries of the West, who fought with Japan in the Pacific, the Yasukuni temple is considered a symbol of Japanese militarism. 

Continuing from the moment of Japan's capitulation, a pilgrimage to this military sanctuary of Japanese politicians and statesmen invariably causes criticism inside the country, as well as anger and outrage abroad. During his reign at the beginning of the century, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, through his demonstrative visits to Yasukuni, greatly spoiled Japan's relations with China. Arrived in 2006 year to replace Koizumi as head of the Japanese government, Abe spent a lot of effort to straighten out Japan-China relations.

However, ironically, he again spoiled them in his second prime ministerial term, celebrating in Yasukuni in December 2013. It is noteworthy that at that time he was criticized not only by Beijing and Seoul, but also by his ally Washington. Since then, Abe does not go to the temple, but annually sends there a personal offering in the form of a sacred tree of Masakaki. 

Many Yasukuni Shrine members are right-wing nationalists who justify Japan's military action against China and the West during World War II. In his own country, Tomomi Inada is widely recognized as a historical revisionist and ardent apologist for the wars waged by Japan. She is a regular visitor to Yasukuni, although as Minister of Defense she has publicly pledged to abide by the Japanese government's earlier apologetic statements regarding World War II. 

Inada's December pilgrimage to Yasukuni was her first visit to the temple after she became defense minister on August 3 last year. Prior to taking this post, Inada headed the political committee of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and is currently considered one of the candidates for the post of the country's prime minister. In an effort to avoid scandal, the minister told reporters that her visit to Yasukuni was intended to pay tribute to "those who gave their lives for their country." 

However, the evoking step of the head of the Japanese military department has generated the expected negative reaction - both in China and South Korea. Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China Hua Chuning said at a press conference that China resolutely protests against the Inada's act. A senior official of the Japanese embassy was summoned to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, where he was also given an official protest. Seoul reacted in a similar way. 

According to the Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, the defense minister's actions have poured cold water on Japan's efforts to improve its ties with China and South Korea. According to the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Inada's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine may raise suspicions in foreign countries that Japan is seeking to blur its responsibility for the war. Inada's visit, the newspaper said, is all the more worrisome that she has a portfolio of the Minister of Defense and is in a post that allows him to command the Japan Self-Defense Forces. 

It is noteworthy that US officials also reacted negatively to the visit of the Japanese Defense Minister to the odious temple immediately after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Pearl Harbor with US President Barack Obama. The State Department spokesman said: "We continue to emphasize the importance of approaching the historical heritage in a spirit that promotes healing and reconciliation." Another US official said it was regrettable that Inada visited the temple shortly after returning from Hawaii.

However, the Japanese Prime Minister himself seemed to have taken water in his mouth regarding his subordinate's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. He refused to answer a question from journalists about this visit, and when asked by an opposition representative in parliament, he only said: “I would like to refrain from answering.” As the aforementioned Asahi Shimbun writes, Abe avoided commenting on the visit of his Minister of Defense to the temple. But if he is serious about Japan's sincere reconciliation with the international community, including Asia, the Japanese prime minister should not let Inade down her destructed behavior. 

By the way, Donald Trump, who had already been elected President of the United States by the time Abe and Obama visited Pearl Harbor, did not respond to the "historic" event in any way. He just ignored it.

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