China, not Japan, is causing concern among Asia-Pacific nations

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine needs to be seen in the context of Japan’s progress as a peace-loving nation

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe (second from left) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on December 26th, 2013. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe (second from left) is led by a Shinto priest as he visits Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on December 26th, 2013. Photograph: Toru Hanai/Reuters


On January24th, the Chinese ambassador to Ireland expressed a highly one-sided view of the visit to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. His article attempts to deny Japan’s post-war progress as a peace-loving nation. It is rather China which is causing concern among Asia-Pacific nations for peace and security in the region.

I believe that such unfounded criticism against a democratically elected leader is not acceptable to the Irish public, who share such values as human rights and the rule of law with Japan. However, in order to avoid misconceptions arising from propaganda, I wish to explain a few facts.

Yasukuni Shrine is a place of worship dedicated to the souls of over 2.4 million people who died for their country between 1853 and the second World War. When he visited Yasukuni Shrine – and also the Chinreisha Shrine, a memorial to all war dead around the world – last month, Mr Abe issued a statement, a “pledge for everlasting peace”, to say that his visit was to pay his respects to the war dead, and to pledge to “build an age free from the sufferings caused by the devastation of war” and never to wage war again.

China began making the visits to Yasukuni Shrine into an issue in 1985. At that point, there had been over 20 visits by prime ministers to Yasukuni Shrine, even after 14 Class A war criminals were enshrined there in 1978.

Sincere remorse
The Japanese government has repeatedly expressed its sincere remorse and apologies regarding the last world war. This position is firmly shared by Mr Abe’s Cabinet. The Chinese ambassador refers to Germany’s attitude since the war, but we need to understand that there are considerable differences between the situation in Europe and in Asia. Furthermore, Europe’s post-war reconciliation was achieved through efforts on all sides, whereas unfortunately China’s response to Japan’s repeated apologies has been anti-Japanese propaganda.

Japanese people are proud of Japan’s peaceful and forward-looking course since the war. Japan has not fired a single shot in combat since then. Japan has contributed to Asia’s peace and prosperity by providing considerable economic assistance to Asian countries including China, and through its international peacekeeping operations. In the 2008 Japan-China Joint Statement, China itself positively evaluated Japan’s post-war record as a peace-loving nation.

However, there is no free flow of information in China, and the Chinese public are unable to criticise the government. China is instilling in its people a critical view of Japan lacking any basis in fact, while Chinese ambassadors are presenting the biased views of their government around the world.

A resurgence of Japan’s “militarism” is also mentioned. However, Japan has reduced its military expenditure by 6 per cent over the past decade. This year’s defence budget has increased for the first time for 11 years, but by a mere 0.8 per cent. By contrast, following annual increases of over 10 per cent, China’s military expenditure has quadrupled over the last decade. China now has the world’s second largest military budget, more than twice that of Japan.

Furthermore, in recent years China has attempted to disturb the status quo in Asia by force, rather than abiding by the rule of law. Chinese vessels have repeatedly intruded into Japanese territorial waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, which have been under Japan’s sovereignty for 120 years. China’s territorial claims started in 1971, when research indicated the possibility of oil reserves in the area.

A Chinese destroyer even directed its fire-control radar at a Japanese ship last year, which in normal naval practice might be regarded as an act of war. China’s recent unilateral declaration of an air defence identification zone over waters including the islands has further raised tensions in the region. Despite these provocations, Japan has behaved with the utmost restraint.

Late last year, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny visited Japan, and launched a “partnership for innovation and growth” in a joint declaration with Prime Minister Abe. The declaration stresses the close links between security in east Asia and in Europe, and the importance of abiding by the rule of law, and resolving issues through peaceful, diplomatic and co-operative means. Japan wishes to continue its efforts with Ireland towards achieving global peace and stability.

China may view things differently. However, that is exactly why it is vital for such important neighbours as Japan and China to have frank dialogue without preconditions, and we hope that China will work with us towards building a future-oriented relationship.

Chihiro Atsumi
Ambassador of Japan

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