Aso Retracts Remarks on Following Nazi Lead on Constitution

Finance Minister Taro Aso backtracked from remarks saying Japan should use the actions of the Nazi regime in Germany as a model for reforming its constitution, after facing criticism from across Asia.

“I think it is vitally important to discuss constitutional revision calmly,” Aso said today in an e-mailed statement. “To emphasize this, I mentioned the Nazi regime’s revision of the Weimar constitution as a negative example.” Aso also said he wished to “withdraw the comment raising the example of the Nazi regime.”

Aso was quoted by the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper as telling a seminar on July 29 that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government should make its constitutional change, following the example of the Weimar Republic’s reform that allowed Adolf Hitler to consolidate power. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters he didn’t believe the comments merited resignation.

Abe, buoyed by an electoral win last month that gave him control of both houses of parliament, is considering overhauling Japan’s pacifist constitution and beefing up its defense forces. Japan’s past occupation of neighboring countries still taints regional relationships 68 years after the end of World War II and Abe’s talk of a military build-up has strained ties with neighbors like China.

“Japanese political leaders should be careful with their words and behavior,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cho Tai Young told reporters on July 30, adding that Aso’s remarks would “obviously hurt many people.”

China Relations

Abe also said today that he was “totally negative on what happened with the Nazis and the Weimar constitution,” and that it was “unfortunate” the comments “created a misunderstanding that differs from my thinking.”

The fallout from Aso’s original remarks was being felt beyond Korea, Liu Jiangyong, vice director of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University in Beijing said yesterday.

“This will not only impact China-Japan relations, it will impact Japan’s relations with other countries, such as Japan-Korea relations and Japan-U.S. relations,” Liu said by phone. “Nazi Germany and Japanese militarism have long been refuted by the international community.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China urged Japan to “seriously reflect on history” and take concrete actions to win the trust of its Asian neighbors, in a statement posted on the ministry’s website late yesterday.

Media Criticism

The comments may eventually weaken domestic support for Abe’s government, which has remained strong since he took office in December last year, according to Tsuneo Watanabe, director and senior fellow at the Tokyo Foundation think tank.

“This kind of thing can quickly change the attitude of the major Japanese media,” Watanabe said. “The liberal media is looking for a good way to criticize Abe and they haven’t found anything so far because public sentiment is very supportive of his economic policies.”

A poll published by the Mainichi newspaper on July 29 found 55 percent of respondents supported Abe, little changed from the previous poll two weeks earlier. The paper polled 929 people on July 27 and 28 and gave no margin of error.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Mayger in Tokyo at jmayger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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