Nationalism is “absolutely not” on the rise in Japan and the country remains committed to peace almost 70 years after its defeat in World War II, said Vice Foreign Minister Nobuo Kishi, the younger brother of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe’s December visit to a war shrine seen by many in China and South Korea as a symbol of Japan’s past aggression prompted the U.S. to express disappointment with its main ally in Asia. Comments by Abe’s associates playing down wartime atrocities by Japanese troops have led to criticism, with the New York Times saying in an editorial on March 2 that Abe’s nationalism threatened ties with the U.S. as well as the region.
“Such suggestions are absolutely not right,” Kishi said in an interview yesterday at the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo. “For 68 years since the war, our country has made contributions to international society as a nation that strives for peace.”
That won’t change under the Abe administration, he said.
Anger at Japan’s perceived ambivalence over its invasion and occupation of large parts of Asia in the first half of the 20th century further soured already difficult relations with China and South Korea. While the U.S. has urged Japan to engage with its neighbors, Abe has not held a summit with either country since taking office in December 2012.
“I am aware there are various criticisms of Japan, and if there are misunderstandings I want to explain so as to resolve them,” Kishi said.
Kishi reiterated Abe’s assertion that his visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class A war criminals alongside other war dead, was intended to pray for lasting peace. Abe was the first sitting prime minister to go to the shrine since 2006.
Disagreements over history have not affected Japan’s overall relationship with the U.S., Kishi said.
“When talking about U.S.-Japan relations, you need to look at the whole picture,” he said. “I think you can say strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance is at the top of the list of the things the Abe administration has done.”
Kishi, 54, declined to comment on a report by Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper that Abe would hold a meeting with South Korean President Park Geun Hye and U.S. President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in The Hague on March 24-25.
No decision has been made on whether leaders of the three countries will meet next week, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai Young told reporters yesterday in Seoul.
Obama has also called for an informal meeting of leaders from G-7 nations alongside the nuclear summit to discuss Russia’s move to recognize Crimea as a sovereign state.
While Russia is an important partner amid a worsening regional security environment, Japan will work with the G-7 to consider further sanctions over the annexation of Crimea, Kishi said.
“An attempt to change the status quo with force in the background is something that is also happening around our country,” Kishi said when asked about parallels with Japan’s territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea. “International society should not allow this, wherever it may happen.”