Japan’s No-apology Diplomacy: Why A Small Tokyo Shrine Is Causing Big Trouble In Asia

Posted by Max Fisher on April 23, 2013 at 11:52 am
Windwing - Shinto priests walk in line to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine

Shinto priests walk in line to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. (Toru Yamanaka/AFP)

Just one year after Emperor Meiji proclaimed the Japanese Empire in 1868, he ordered the construction of a majestic new Shinto shrine in Tokyo. The Yasukuni Shrine was to record the names of every man, woman and child who died in service of the new empire. And it was to be a place of worship, part of a larger effort to make the empire something of a state religion. By the time Japan collapsed in defeat at the end of World War II, more than 2 million names had been added to the shrine.
For more than 75 years, Yasukuni was a symbol of Japan's imperial mission; both were officially sacred. The shrine was considered the final resting place of Japanese soldiers, colonists and others who served the imperial expansion that had plunged all of East Asia and eventually the United States into a costly and horrific war.
When Japan surrendered in 1945 and its imperial era ended, so too, officially, did the state ideology that had been theologically enshrined at Yasukuni. That next April, less than a year after U.S. occupation forces took control of Japan, the Americans ordered Emperor Hirohito to never again visit the shrine or send envoys there, according to Herbert Bix's Pulitzer-winning biography of the emperor. The official symbol of Japan's supposedly divine mission of conquest would remain standing, much like the institution of the emperor himself, but the two could never again meet. Meanwhile, the shrine's keepers continued adding names — including those of high-profile war leaders who were convicted of war crimes and put to death by U.S.-sanctioned tribunals.
In October 1952, shortly after the U.S. occupation ended, Hirohito resumed his visits to worship at Yasukuni. He made seven more trips after that. "It was as if there had been no occupation, or at least no reforms," Bix wrote in his biography. "He was completely indifferent to Yasukuni's disestablishment from the state for its role in channeling religious energy into war."
Like so many of the compromises and contradictions of post-war Japan, Yasukuni's place in the national identity has never been fully resolved. And, like the imperial history that Japan has never addressed quite as fully as did wartime ally Germany, Yasukuni continues to cause trouble.
On Sunday, three high-level Japanese politicians visited Yasukuni, bringing along a wooden token from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who did not visit. China and South Korea, both of which suffered heavily under imperial Japan and who have long accused Japan of refusing to fully atone for or even recognize its wartime abuses, howled in protest. On Tuesday, 168 more Japanese government officials arrived at the shrine, far more than usually attend the annual pilgrimage.
It's hard to overstate just how hated Yasukuni is in East Asia, the degree to which this shrine has become a symbol of Japan's role in the long-held regional tensions that have recently simmered into something a bit more dangerous. In December 2011, a Chinese man attempted to burn the shrine with homemade explosives, a crime he confessed to only when he was later arrested in South Korea for trying to attack the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. But South Korea refused to extradite the man to Japan for imprisonment there, announcing that he would instead be sent home to China after serving a few months' time in Korea. Last month, a restaurant owner in the Chinese city of Hefei became a minor celebrity on the Chinese Web for putting a sign reading "Yasukuni Shrine" over the restaurant's toilets.
The last year has seen rising nationalism in Japan and China, and to a lesser degree in South Korea, lead the countries dangerously close to war over a handful of tiny, disputed islands. The recent visits to Yasukuni seem to have substantially set back the efforts to make up and to have worsened tensions. South Korean officials, including the foreign minister, canceled their visit to Japan in protest over the pilgrimage and Abe's visit to the shrine. Japanese lawmakers said they had to cancel a trip to China because Chinese leader Xi Jinping was being "too difficult" about setting up meetings. A Japanese lawmaker with an opposition party warned that his country was paying a heavy cost for the visits.
Abe's administration has found other ways to infuriate Japan's neighbors and indulge nationalism at home. He has denied the Japanese military's well-documented enlistment of Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian sex slaves during the war and suggested he may want to "revise" the country's national apology for wartime abuses. A right-wing Japanese think tank has advocated for such moves, urging that Japan abandon what it called "apology diplomacy." The more recent turn might then be called "no-apology diplomacy."
So why do Japanese politicians keep visiting Yasukuni? It's not clear the degree to which they are stoking nationalism or merely riding it to office, although, as in any electoral democracy, the forces of popular sentiment and public leadership aren't always distinct. Whatever the cause, the effect is bad for Japan — the islands disputes, even if they never escalate beyond where they are now, have hurt both diplomacy and trade — and bad for Asia. South Korea and particularly China without question share responsibility for those disputes, although given that the anger and resentment in East Asia can in many ways be traced back to World War II, Japan perhaps holds some special responsibility.
As the historian W.R. Mead wrote on his blog, "Because Japan and China have never been able to have the kind of meeting of the minds and deep reconciliation that Germany and France had after World War II, Asia remains a turbulent and dangerous place."
Turbulent and dangerous might be a tad of an overstatement, and Europe was partially aided by the common cause of the Cold War as well as by Germany's efforts to make amends, but it's true that East Asia is still divided by the memory of the not-so-far-back war that had torn it apart. When Japanese politicians pay tribute to the Yasukuni shrine, they are also paying tribute, whether they intend to or not, to an imperial order in which Japan violently subjugated its neighbors. That era is over: Japan's economy is shrinking and its population declining as both China and South Korea rise in power and stature. Like post-war Europe, it's a place where cooperation and harmony are more likely to serve the interests of individual nations. But as long as Japan's leaders continue living in the past, as Hirohito did when he resumed visiting the imperial shrine to his devastated and discredited empire, they will struggle to prepare their country for its future.


DiaoYuDao(Senkakus) Could Be Undoing Of Asia Pivot

DiaoYuDao(Senkakus) Could Be Undoing of Asia Pivot
Would U.S., Japan Go To War With China Over Islands?
Apr. 16, 2013 - 09:27AM   |   By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — America's strategic rebalancing toward the Pacific — known as the "Asia pivot" — could meet its first unwanted test over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, now being challenged for control by China.
Could the Asia pivot's true fulcrum be located on these desolate, rocky outcrops in the East China Sea? China, which calls them the Diaoyu Islands, claims they were stolen from it after World War II. Over the past two years, Beijing has taken aggressive actions to intimidate Japanese Coast Guard vessels in charge of safeguarding the islands' territorial boundaries.
There are concerns an accidental war could be triggered by miscalculation or by China, in the spirit of nationalism, taking a calculated risk by invading the islands.
The question many are asking is: Would Washington fulfill its defense treaty obligations with Japan by taking an active military role to remove Chinese forces from the islands? Or would the U.S. hesitate for political and economic reasons to placate China? If so, what would this mean for regional confidence in America's commitments to peace and stability?
This could be America's "Suez moment," said Paul Giarra, who heads Global Strategies & Transformation, a national defense and strategic planning consulting firm in Washington. It could be the moment when America, hobbled by massive debt, domestic political spasms and the lingering wounds of two exhaustive wars, finally realizes, as did Great Britain during the Suez crisis of 1956, that its ability to fulfill its international strategic commitment in a complex, multipolar world ends.
And if the U.S. fails to uphold its treaty obligations to Japan in such a scenario, could this force Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines to question whether it is in their best interests to cater to a declining superpower that is no longer able to meet the minimum requirements of its pledges during a crisis? Or will the U.S., guided by the lights of a bygone era of being the unilateral superhero, dive into a war with an economic superpower that does not share America's cost-benefit morality or its reciprocal military restraint?
In effect, what would stop China from attacking mainland U.S. targets if the U.S. first attacked land-based ballistic-missile facilities on mainland China?
"This becomes a game of chicken," said Dean Cheng, a China specialist at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank. "Would the Japanese be willing to attack or sink a Chinese freighter carrying water? What if the Chinese garrison was resupplied by civilian fishing boats, fired up by patriotic fervor?"
Options for Japan
Reaction in Tokyo to a Chinese military takeover of the islands also might spark vacillation. The Japanese government would first go to the United Nations Security Council, on which China and the U.S. sit, "before taking any measures against China," said Yoshi Nakai, a professor of Chinese politics at Gakushuin University, Tokyo.
If the U.S. did not back up Japan's claims with military assistance, the Japanese would be "very disappointed," and "political pressure for the revision of [Japan's pacifist] Constitution would certainly increase," Nakai said.
Masashi Nishihara, president of Japan's Research Institute for Peace and Security, said, "U.S. failure to assist Japan on the Senkakus" would be a "serious blow to the alliance."
For the U.S. to stay out of the conflict would require "some legal gymnastics to explain away repeated assurances that the treaty covers the Senkakus," said Toshi Yoshihara, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College.
Part of the problem in securing U.S. military assistance is the vast range of Chinese invasion scenarios. Nishihara said it could simply be a fleet of Chinese fishing boats that have militia disguised as fishermen who land "en masse" on the disputed islands.
"Because it will not be an armed attack, the security treaty will not be invoked, and the U.S. may not be involved," he said.
Losing the islands to China would cause problems for security in the Western Pacific, Nishihara said.
If China took the islands, it would probably build radar installations and helicopter ports. This would enable China to gather intelligence on Japanese and U.S. military activities in Okinawa and the Sakishima Islands.
Chinese control of the islands also would weaken Japan's front line of defense, Nishihara said. The Taiwan Strait is vital for the U.S. in its defense of Taiwan, and the southwestern island chain is critical to both China and the U.S.-Japanese alliance.
China has been using "creeping expansionism" to intimidate Japan in the area, he said. Chinese ships have recently entered the contiguous zone between Japan's Sakishima Islands. Harassment of Japanese Coast Guard vessels by nationalistic Chinese and even Taiwanese fishermen continues in the area.
Nishihara said he believes that China is pressuring Japan to capitulate and drive a wedge into its security partnership with the United States.
Light and Heavy Campaigns
Scenarios abound, Yoshihara said. These include light to heavy campaigns to take the islands. A light campaign would involve rapid seizure of the islands by special operations forces and civilian assets with the goal of catching the Japanese Coast Guard and Navy off guard.
"Civilian vessels could be used to overwhelm the defenses at sea while complicating Japanese rules of engagement," he said. "Militia and military forces could disembark from nonmilitary vessels, allowing the Chinese to land forces and establish some sort of beachhead."
However, once ashore, the Chinese forces would face mounting problems, including the lack of heavy equipment and supplies to dig in and entrench their defensive positions. They may be too light to defend and hold their positions against sustained shore bombardment by Japanese warships and aircraft.
"Moreover, they risk being cut off from resupply if Japan and the United States are able to establish a maritime quarantine around the contested islands. An isolated garrison would not be able to feed itself or rearm. It would then be a matter of time," Yoshihara said.
A heavier military campaign would compel the Chinese to forgo the element of surprise and speed. The preparations for a major amphibious assault on the islands would not escape the attention of Japanese and U.S. intelligence, he said.
"Remember also that Chinese forces would still have to cross the East China Sea to reach the islands," and the "distance between Wenzhou in Zhejiang province and the Senkakus is over 200 miles," Yoshihara said.
With sufficient early warning, the Japanese and U.S. navies could be in place to repel such an assault.
If the Chinese could not be pushed off the islands diplomatically or via air or sea bombardment, Japan would not be able to pull off a counter-amphibious assault of its own to dislodge Chinese forces there. Only the U.S. Marine Corps is equipped and trained to conduct forcible entry, Yoshihara said.
A counter-amphibious assault seems unlikely, as Chinese forces on the islands would have had little time to prepare fortifications, Cheng said. Many assume that island battles will be replays of Tarawa and Iwo Jima during World War II, but the Japanese had about a year to prepare Tarawa and even longer for Iwo Jima. This means aerial and sea-based bombardment of the islands would take their toll.
The question remains: Are the Japanese ready to commit to a military engagement with Chinese forces over a couple of rocks? Cheng said he wonders if Japan has honed the command-and-control skills needed. Who would be in charge of such an operation — the Japanese Navy or Army — "for one of the most complex operations" since World War II?
Japanese vacillation and disorganization could give the Chinese Air Force the "upper hand if they can generate more shore-based sorties from airfields on the mainland," Yoshihara said.
The Chinese military also could widen the war by employing its missile forces against Japanese bases to punish Tokyo while avoiding those that host U.S. forces as a stratagem to isolate Japan, he said.
China also could "turn on its larger anti-access force," like the Dong Feng 21D anti-ship ballistic missile, to take out Japanese or even U.S. ships engaging Chinese forces on the islands, Yoshihara said.
"To me, it's a classic problem in war," he said. "It's easy to start a fight, but it's hard to finish it."


What Japanese History Lessons Leave Out

What Japanese History Lessons Leave Out