Japanese minister refuses to resign in Nazi row

Aso’s comments about changing country’s constitution draw ire

Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, has come under pressure over remarks he made about learning lessons on how to change the constitution from the Nazis.  Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Taro Aso, Japan’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, has come under pressure over remarks he made about learning lessons on how to change the constitution from the Nazis. Photograph: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

 

Japanese finance minister Taro Aso refused today to resign or apologise over remarks suggesting Japan should follow the Nazi example of how to change the country’s constitution stealthily and without public debate.

Following protests by neighbouring countries and human rights activists, he “retracted” the comments last night but refused to go further.

“I have no intention to step down” as Cabinet minister or MP, Mr Aso, who is also deputy prime minister, told reporters today. The government also said it is not seeking his resignation, which some opposition members have demanded.

Mr Aso, who is known for intemperate remarks, drew outrage for saying Japan should learn from how the Nazi party stealthily changed Germany’s pre-second World War constitution before anyone realised it.

In a speech earlier this week in Tokyo to an ultra-conservative audience, he also suggested that Japanese politicians should make visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni war shrine quietly to avoid controversy.

Such visits currently take place amid wide publicity and are a sore point for other Asian nations that suffered under Japanese occupation during the second World War.

Mr Aso said yesterday he was misunderstood and only meant to say that loud debate over whether Japan should change its postwar constitution, and other issues is not helpful.

In retracting his comments, he said it was “very unfortunate and regrettable” that his comments were misinterpreted.

Today, Mr Aso said he stands by all his other remarks in the speech.

Critics of the ruling Liberal Democrats are uneasy over the party’s proposals for revising the US-inspired postwar constitution, in part to allow a higher profile for Japan’s military.

Japan and Nazi Germany were allies in the second World War, when Japan occupied much of Asia and Germany much of Europe.

Japan’s history of military aggression, which included colonising the Korean Peninsula before the war, is the reason its current constitution limits the role of the military.

According to a transcript of the speech published by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Mr Aso decried the lack of support for revising Japan’s pacifist constitution among older Japanese, saying the Liberal Democrats had held quiet, extensive discussions about its proposals. “I don’t want to see this done in the midst of an uproar,” Mr Aso said, according to the transcript.

Since revisions of the constitution may raise protests, “doing it quietly, just as in one day the Weimar constitution changed to the Nazi constitution, without anyone realising it, why don’t we learn from that sort of tactic?”

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said that postwar Japan has consistently supported peace and human rights. “Cabinet ministers should fully understand their role and make sure to avoid misleading remarks,” he said. He said Mr Aso has already retracted the Nazi comment and doesn’t have to resign.

Mr Aso often speaks in a meandering style that has gotten him in trouble for off-the-cuff remarks in the past. He has apologised previously for accusing the elderly of being a burden on society, joking about people with Alzheimer’s disease, saying the ideal country would be one that attracts “the richest Jewish people”, and comparing the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to the Nazis.

The Nazis’ rise to power in the early 1930s amid the economic crisis brought on by the Great Depression was facilitated by emergency decrees that circumvented the Weimar constitution. So was Adolph Hitler’s seizure of absolute power after he was made chancellor in 1933.

Opposition leaders condemned Mr Aso’s remarks, saying they showed a lack of understanding of history and hurt Japan’s national interest.