Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently completed his 5th visit to a Shinto war memorial shrine that contains the remains of 14 Class-A war criminals for WWII along with a memorial for over 2.5 million other Japanese that have died in the service of their country since 1869. While Japanese opinion is roughly evenly split (according to this WaPo article) about the visits, Japan's neighbors are in complete agreement that the visits are inflammatory. China, North Korea and South Korea have all condemned the visits.
So DEL asks, why did PM Koizumi visit the shrine? (Part I)
And why did he choose now to do it? (Part II)
The Balance of Power in East Asia
Japan, the key economic and military power in East Asia, now finds itself confronted by a China that for over a decade has experienced massive economic growth and double-digit defense growth (see DEL here). Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently commented in China about their lack of transparency in their military buildup and questioned the purpose of developing their military capability (see DEL here and here). China now has the world's third largest military budget after the US and Russia, according to Pentagon estimates.
Japan has a population of 127 million that is set to decline within the next two years. Given Japan's likely economic and potential military decline vis-a-vis China, why would they give the Chinese and democratic South Koreans a reason to stir popular unrest towards their neighbor?
Dawn's Early Light would argue that Prime Minister Koizumi's principal reason is to move Japan away from its pacifist history post World War II and to raise the discussion in Japan about its future security. The visits have the effect of drawing negative Chinese and Korean reactions. To build a stronger Japanese sense of self defense is to pull the Japanese population together because of the external condemnation.
Only by raising Japanese domestic awareness to the potential growing threats in Asia can Japan move more aggressively to defend and promote its national interests.
Tomorrow: DEL looks at the timing of the visit and Japan's international position in Asia.
Update: For a detailed listing of the 14 Class-A war criminals mentioned above, Kushibo has a great summary. (November 25, 2005)