Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday he wanted to meet Chinese and South Korean leaders to explain why he visited a controversial war shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Tokyo’s wartime aggression.
Abe’s Dec. 26 visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, where Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals are enshrined along with other war dead, infuriated China and South Korea and prompted concern from the US, a key ally.
“Seeking dialogue with China and South Korea is extremely important for the peace and security of this region,” Abe said at his annual new year press conference after paying a customary New Year’s visit to a shrine in the central city of Ise.
“I would like to explain my true intentions regarding my visit to Yasukuni. There aren’t any direct approaches being made to set up such meetings at present, but the ‘door for dialogue’ is open, as always,” Abe added, using what has become a standard phrase regarding summits with his northeast Asian neighbors.
“Because we have issues and problems, I believe it becomes more important that the leaders open our hearts and talk without preconditions,” he said.
China and South Korea have been especially touchy about visits to the shrine by serving Japanese prime ministers and Abe is the first leader to pay homage at Yasukuni while in office since 2006.
Paying respects at Yasukuni is part of Abe’s conservative agenda to restore Japan’s pride in its past and recast its wartime history with a less apologetic tone.
He also wants to ease the restraints of Japan’s post-World War II pacifist constitution on the military, a move also likely to infuriate China and South Korea.
Abe said he hoped to deepen debate about constitutional reform within Japan and that he was confident he could make Beijing and Seoul understand.
“I am sure that I will be able to obtain the understanding of nearby nations about my administration’s pursuit of peace if I explain it thoroughly,” he said.
In his speech, Abe also stressed his commitment to boost Japan’s once-floundering economy, including supporting much-needed wage-hikes that economists say are vital if his efforts to spark real inflation are to take root.
Additional reporting by AFP