it easy to understand, canceling bilateral foreign ministerial
talks (a step soon followed by South Korea). Koizumi, fresh from
an unexpected landslide election victory, fired back in his interview
with me in what sounded like penetrating sarcasm. While dismissing
his shrine visit as no "major issue" in the long run,
he said: "I understand because of the war 60 years ago"
that the Chinese "feel Japan is a threat. So, I understand
that they want to contain Japan. I think to advance this perception
of Japan as a rival and to create a sense of 'anti-Japan' in China
would be advantageous to the Chinese leadership."
first time, China and Japan are great powers at the same time
and eye each other with foreboding -- 127 million Japanese worried
about 1.3 billion Chinese. To Japanese diplomats, Chinese outrage
over the shrine visit is just Beijing playing its "Japan
card." For seven years, Japan has dismissed Chinese demands
for apologies about World War II as a power play for dominance
in East Asia.
by ordinary Japanese may be reflected by the colorful Shintaro
Ishihara, governor of the Tokyo prefecture. Over dinner with me,
he worried about Chinese advancement in long-range missiles and
nuclear submarines threatening the U.S. protective shield around
When I asked
senior Japanese officials, they chuckled about the outspoken Ishihara
but did not dispute him. They noted theories, neither agreeing
nor disagreeing, that China is preparing either to push the Americans
out of Asia or just overwhelm Taiwan. The prime minister was apprehensive.
"We have to be careful about China's military buildup,"
Koizumi said, adding, "it has to be made more transparent
than it is."
the background last week when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
suddenly got word that the prime minister would visit the Yasukuni
Shrine that very day. It surprised nobody, including U.S. Ambassador
Tom Schieffer. Koizumi paid his last promised annual visit there
22 months ago, and he prides himself on keeping campaign pledges.
big problem is the inclusion in 1978 of the war criminals, including
executed wartime leader Gen. Hideki Tojo. But Yasukuni's adjoining
war museum, run by the shrine's staff, bothers even such friendly
Americans as Schieffer. I visited it and found an alternative
view of history that Japan was forced into invading China and
bombing Pearl Harbor and is credited with liberating Asia from
European colonialists. It is history written by the losers, but
seems irrelevant to the issues of 2005.
rejects the danger of "militarism" in a Japan that has
been a "pacifist state" and has not fired a shot in
60 years. The prime minister did not mention the arch-militarist
Tojo by name, but that was what he had in mind when he told me:
"I'm not visiting the shrine to pay respects or homage to
any particular individual. Rather, I go there to pay respect to
millions of people who lost their lives in the war."
who visit Japan "will find out for themselves there is no
militarism in this country," the prime minister said. But
"because of years of education in China, there is a strong
perception in China that the regime of 60 years ago still exists,
that Japan must be hostile to China. That is far from reality."
In the opinion
of U.S. policymakers, it will remain far from reality so long
as the United States lines up with Japan against China in Asia.
Washington's nightmare is for Tokyo to decide it must rearm for
protection because it no longer trusts the Americans. That is
reason enough for the Bush administration not to get excited about
the visit to the Shinto shrine.