Part I of this series can be found here. The intro is republished below.
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)
Bold Leader Builds Legacy with New Constitution
Mr. Koizumi cannot stand for re-election. He just silenced the mavericks of the old guard in his own LDP party and destroyed his competition by calling for an election over Japan Post reforms and risking all to see his policy voted on last September 11. With nothing to lose and a legacy to enshrine may explain the timing of Mr. Koizumi's shrine visit.
The ruling party LDP is adopting a new draft constitution for Japan. Asia Times Online has a good summary of the proposed changes:
"The LDP has almost completed its work on the draft constitution, and plans to adopt it on Friday ahead of the party convention on November 22 to mark its 50th anniversary.
The LDP draft calls for, among other things:
Rewriting Article 9 - the clause almost synonymous with Japan's post-war defense policy - to acknowledge clearly the existence of a "military for self-defense". More active participation in international peace cooperation activities. The current constitution is widely interpreted as forbidding the possession of a military. Although, in reality, Japan has about 240,000 troops of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) and one of the world's biggest defense expenditures, successive governments have explained away the contradiction by claiming that SDF is not a military. Setting a nationalistic tone, with its preamble containing references to the "love of the nation" as well as Japan's tradition, history and culture. All these elements are missing from the current constitution."
The article explains the shift in Japanese domestic thinking regarding the nation's national security and future defense needs.
"For many years since the end of World War II, even the slightest sign of nationalism in Japan had been widely denounced at home as well as abroad as signaling a resurgence of militarism. But the situation has changed dramatically in recent years. With a sense of stagnation growing among many Japanese people amid the prolonged economic slump, a tide of nationalism is on the rise. Many Japanese also feel more insecure in the increasingly volatile security environment surrounding their country. Discussions on questions that had long been considered taboo have moved into the Japanese mainstream. There have been discussions in the political and media circles even about the pros and cons of Japan possessing nuclear weapons to defend itself.
There is growing alarm in Japan over potential threats posed by neighbors North Korea and China. At the same time Japan is under increasing pressure from its most important ally, the US, to shoulder more of the burden of its foreign and security policy, regionally and globally. Having the kind of 'self-imposed' new constitution that was drafted by the LDP is not merely a matter of national pride, but something Japanese leaders firmly believe the nation must do to cope with those new challenges."
The timing of Mr. Koizumi's 5th shrine visit, since his first one two days from the anniversary of the end of WWII on August 13, 2001 (for history of see here) is important. The visits are always controversial, as his first visit demonstrated. However, controversy creates media coverage and discussion. With the constitution debate coming up that will undoubtedly focus Japan's past history and view of military service, his visits served the purpose of publicly showing respect and honor to those who wore the uniform. Military service has not been a profession held in high regard historically in Japan post war.
Mr. Koizumi's visits, as the Prime Minister, accomplished two reactions:
- Domestic controversy that created news and public attention to the images of the PM paying respect to those who served their country. The images helped create a sense of nationalism which was lacking in Japan compared to its other Asian neighbors.
- International controversy that heightened the domestic perception of how poorly the Japanese are portrayed in the media of China, North and South Korea. The strong denunciations of foreign governments while worrying to the average Japanese did not fit with the self-image of most Japanese. This disconnect required the domestic population to re-examine their views and world views around them.
Now Mr. Koizumi has the opportunity to change the constitution allowing for a more assertive Japan in regional affairs. This is good news for the US and for Japan as their strategic partnership will be stronger as Japan grows more self-reliant and comfortable with its military role.