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“Postwar path to peace source of Japan’s pride” By Ambassador Yoshitaka Akimoto

Contributed to The Australian on 15 January 2014

February 6, 2014

Japan and China are invaluable partners. Of course, there are times when our ideas and policies are not compatible. Nevertheless, is it really constructive to use the foreign media to criticise aspects of one another’s ideas or policies? As the Ambassador of Japan, it is not my wish to engage in a war of words between Japan and China in the media like this.

However, I cannot condone a campaign like the Chinese ambassador to Australia’s article that repudiates Japan’s progress as a peace-loving nation and my country’s way of life, and tries to inculcate a false notion of Japan among the people of the international community, including Australians. I would like the Australian public who share with Japan its core values such as freedom, democracy and human rights, to have a correct and objective understanding of what is actually happening in Japan. This is why I have decided to write this.

First and foremost, I would like to point out that Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine was neither to pay homage to class-A war criminals, nor to glorify militarism.

Yasukuni Shrine is a place of worship dedicated to those 2,500,000 men and women who lost their lives fighting for their countries in not only WWII, but also since 1853 during the Meiji Restoration, the Meiji period riots, the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and WWI. The intent of Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine was to pay his respects and express his condolences to those who had sacrificed their lives, and to pledge for everlasting peace. For this reason, Prime Minister Abe also visited Chinreisha, a remembrance memorial to pray for the souls of those, irrespective of nationality, who lost their lives in war, but are not enshrined in Yasukuni Shrine.

There are people who criticise the Prime Minister’s visit as paying homage to class-A war criminals and justifying militarism. Needless to say, however, this was not the intention of the Prime Minister. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East made judgements regarding class-A war criminals, and the Japanese government accepted those judgements by the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, to which Australia is a signatory. Prime Minister Abe has clearly defined this position and the Japanese government has never sought to justify class-A war criminals or militarism.

Secondly, China’s criticism of Japan is lacking in reason. China criticises Japan by saying visits to Yasukuni Shrine symbolise Japan’s path towards militarism, that it increases tension in the region, and that Japan is trying to reverse the wheel of history. This argument denies Japan’s post-WWII path to peace, and runs completely counter to objective facts. Considering what is going on in the East Asia region today, it is not necessary to point out which country is increasing tensions in the region by advancing military build-up without transparency and trying to unilaterally change the status quo by force.

On the contrary, in the post-WWII world, Japan under its pacifist constitution has consistently contributed to global peace and prosperity, and the promotion of freedom and human rights. In the East Asia region in particular, Japan has worked tirelessly to protect freedom and democracy and promote regional stability and development in collaboration with countries like Australia, with whom it shares the same values. As it is widely known in Australia, the promotion of peaceful relations and the renunciation of war are Japan’s national values, and moreover part of the identity of the Japanese people. An overwhelming majority of the Japanese public are strongly supportive and are very proud of Japan’s post-war path to a peaceful nation. These values will never waver, and were further emphasised in the first national security strategy for Japan which was adopted by the Abe administration at the end of last year.

Moreover, China itself should appreciate the type of contributions Japan has made. In 2006, Prime Minister Abe and President Hu Jintao confirmed the creation of the “Mutually Beneficial Relationship Based on Common Strategic Interests”. In a joint statement released in 2008 regarding this mutually beneficial relationship, China expressed its positive evaluation of Japan’s consistent pursuit of the path to peace, and its contribution to the peace and stability of the world through peaceful means for more than sixty years since WWII. How does one explain the inconsistencies in China’s awareness of these contributions and their recent criticisms towards Japan? The government and the people of Japan cannot help but be extremely confused.

Since the end of WWII, Japanese prime ministers have made more than 60 visits to Yasukuni Shrine. Until Prime Minister Nakasone’s official visit to Yasukuni Shrine in 1985, China did not see this as an issue. Moreover, it was only recently that China decided to take a tougher line in this issue.

We, the Japanese people, do not repudiate or criticise another country simply because our policies or aspects of cultures and societies are not compatible. We are hoping to work with China in many ways so that one particular issue does not have an impact on overall relations, and we will endeavour to continue to strengthen our mutually beneficial relationship. This door is always open. Prime Minister Abe hopes to build upon Japan’s friendship with China with the greatest respect, and welcomes direct dialogue with Chinese leaders. Sadly, China has all but rejected this offer by adding various conditions to bilateral dialogue. Furthermore, China is campaigning internationally via its embassies to condemn the so-called “militarism of Japan”, a claim that does not reflect reality. I should say that this attitude will not contribute to building confidence between both countries.