Beijing has criticized Japan’s paramount leader in the harshest terms to date. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed interest in explaining his visit to the controversial Yasukuni shrine to Chinese and Korean leaders. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang bluntly ruled out this possibility:
“In fact, Abe himself closed the door of dialogue with the Chinese leaders , the Chinese people do not welcome him . Abe should admit mistakes to the Chinese government and people to make a fresh start …
Abe miscalculates regarding Sino-Japanese relations, making mistakes again and again. He visited the Yasukuni Shrine, where class A war criminals are enshrined… these war criminals were the planners of Japan’s war of militarist aggression… They are Fascists, the Nazis of Asia.”
In recent days Chinese state media has stressed the fact that Abe’s visit to Yasakuni has been controversial even within Japan. Spokesman Qin made an appeal to the Japanese people:
“We believe Japan has a conscience, and a love of peace…we are willing to join them in the spirit of ‘learning from history and facing the future…”
Abe’s visit to Yasukuni was the first of any sitting Japanese prime minister in over seven years. Coming at a time when Sino-Japanese relations have been strained to the breaking point by the dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, Abe must have known the Chinese reaction would be extremely hostile.
Yasukuni is controversial not only because it enshrines convicted war criminals, but also because the attached museum completely whitewashes Japanese aggression and war crimes. Regarding the Nanjing Massacre, the museum teaches visitors : “The Japanese established a safety zone for Chinese civilians and made a special effort to protect historical and cultural sites. Inside the city, residents were once again able to live their lives in peace.”
Any individual in Germany similarly downplaying the Holocaust or the invasion of the Soviet Union would face criminal prosecution.
On a final note, I find The New York Times’ coverage of the controversy somewhat disingenuous: “The Yasukuni Shrine, an institution of the Shinto religion, honors ordinary soldiers who died fighting in World War II, but it has long generated enmity among the Chinese because it also has the remains of some who are designated Class A war criminals.”
First, China is not alone in condemning official visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. Abe’s visit has been criticized by China, Russia, the United States, and both Koreas.
Secondly, if Abe wants to honor war dead without enraging Japan’s neighbors he could visit the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery or Chinreisha. Abe’s made a calculated move meant to shore up his support amongst Japanese ultranationalists, and possibly provoke Beijing into a more militant stance in the East China Sea.