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Why the Neighboring Countries Were Outraged by Abe's Yasukuni Visit

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe blatantly paid homage to the Yasukuni Shrine on December 26th, 2013, which has drawn strong protests and condemnations from China, the ROK and other Asian nations. Here I would like to explain why his visit would spark such an outrage from the international community.

Built in 1869, the Yasukuni Shrine honors the Japanese who had died in all subsequent wars since the Meiji Restoration. During WWII, the shrine was used as the spiritual instrument and symbol of Japanese militarism in its war of aggression and colonial rule. Millions of young men from Japan were made to believe that if they died for their country, their souls would be housed in the shrine, their spirits worshiped by everyone and that they would have a glorious afterlife in the shrine. Under such an illusion, they fought and were killed in the war. Then with Japan's defeat in 1945, the Allies abolished the State Shinto and its political privileges but failed to hold it accountable for its crimes. That is why most of the shrines have been kept intact to this day.

Today, 14 Class-A and more that 1,000 Class-B and Class-C war criminals of WWII are worshiped in the Yasukuni Shrine. Among the Class-A criminals is Hideki Tojo, who was directly responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor which claimed 2,400 American lives and dragged the United States into the war. Yasukuni also highlights the Kamikaze (divine wind) Pilots, who conducted suicide attacks on the American fleets at the closing stage of the Pacific campaign of the WWII. Bronze statues of them can be seen at the entrance of the shrine.

China, the ROK and other Asian countries see a clear difference between the Japanese militarists and the general public and between the war criminals and ordinary soldiers. We are not opposed to Japanese people paying homage to their relatives in the shrines. However, the visit by a Japanese leader to the Yasukuni Shrine, which reflects his attempt to whitewash the history, is totally unacceptable. In the recent 30 years, most of the Japanese Prime Ministers have never paid homage to Yasukuni, a clear evidence that Yasukuni is completely different from other shrines. One may also read the article of "Sorry, Japan: Yasukuni Is Not Arlington" by Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point, published in the National Interest. Shinzo Abe became Prime Minister for a second time in December, 2012. Only one month after coming to power, he published the book Toward a Beautiful Country, in which he wrote "Some people used to point to my grandfather as a 'Class-A war criminal suspect,' and I felt strong repulsion. Because of that experience, I may have become emotionally attached to 'conservatism,' on the contrary." He also stated that the crime of anti-peace and anti-humanity, which the Class-A war criminals were convicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, were created after WWII, thus raising the point that the trial according to the retroactive law can be declared as a mistrial in the field of the international law. Therefore, those who died in WWII are not treated as war criminals in Japan according to the domestic law. In April, 2013, Abe claimed that the definition of aggression has yet to be established when answering a question in the Upper House. He also broke with decades of tradition of apologizing for the war, showed no remorse for Japan's wartime atrocities and made no promise to never wage war again. It's not hard to feel that the real reasons behind his visit to Yasukuni were his attempts to beautify Japan's history of aggression and colonial rule, deny Japan's past crimes and responsibilities, overturn the just trial by the international community and challenge the outcome of WWII.

Abe is leading Japan down a dangerous path which will undermine peace and prosperity in Asia, the United Sates and beyond. The US government has openly expressed its disappointment at his visit. Dennis Halpin, former advisor on Asian affairs on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, linked a tribute to Hideki Tojo to that to Osama bin Laden. Even in Japan, the voice of condemnation and opposition can also be heard all the time. The Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary argued repeatedly after Abe's homage to Yasukuni that the visit is a private one, confirming from the opposition that the visit is not right. If it is right, why can't it be open and aboveboard?

China and the United States were wartime allies. We fought shoulder to shoulder against Japanese aggressors and made enormous sacrifices. As victors of WWII, we have a common responsibility to work with the international community to oppose and condemn any attempts to invalidate the peaceful post-war consensus and challenge the international order. We should also uphold the UN Charter and safeguard regional stability and world peace.