Where emotions run deep
When Japanese PM Junichiro Koizumi made a surprise
visit to the Yasukuni war memorial last week, the
bubble burst in neighboring China and South Korea.
Tensions between these East Asian neighbors has
been brewing for some time. The history textbook
issue has been one source of irritation. The
South Koreans especially have been firm in demanding
changes to the textbooks that would not trivialize
Japan's war crimes.
China has been sore about that issue too, and Beijing
has had a hot trade dispute with Tokyo to further
The problem that China, South Korea and some other Asian
nations have with Yasukuni is that it honors all Japan's
war dead including some that are considered war criminals.
Koizumi seemed to have realized the potential problems
that a shrine visit would pose when he pledged
not to go there. When he reneged on his promise a few days before Japan's
anniversary of the WWII defeat, even
some close allies were quick to show their disappointment.
The recent tensions show just how delicate the situation
in Asia is these days over half a century since the end
of World War II.
All Asian leaders and thinkers agree that there now is great
need for close cooperation between the Asian nations on issues
of trade, stabilization of regional currencies and other
matters related to economics, security, culture and politics.
After seeing the furor caused by his visit, Koizumi was quick
to emphasize the importance of Japan's relationship with its
Asian neighbors. Japan now exports and imports more from
Asia than from any other region.
For the other Asian nations, Japan is most often the largest
contributor of foreign aid and the largest creditor nation.
In most cases, Japan is either the largest or second largest
importer and exporter of goods from and to Asian nations.
Given all this, it is amazing how easily things can get out
of hand. According to one mode of thinking the present
situation comes as the number of people who lived during the
war quickly diminishes.
In a way, it is a time of final accounting for those whose
lives were personally touched by the war. The manner
in which this issue is settled will likely have a lasting
effect on how Japan and its neighbors deal with each other
in the new century.