Japan ‘spits on US WWII victory’ as 99 lawmakers visit Yasukuni Shrine on Pearl Harbor attack day
Published: Dec 07, 2021 08:50 PM
A nonpartisan group of Japanese lawmakers visits Yasukuni shrine, regarded as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by its Asian neighbors, in Tokyo, Japan on December 7, 2021. The group were making their first visit to the shrine, which honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead, in more than two years. Photo: VCG

A nonpartisan group of Japanese lawmakers visits Yasukuni shrine, regarded as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by its Asian neighbors, in Tokyo, Japan on December 7, 2021. The group were making their first visit to the shrine, which honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead, in more than two years. Photo: VCG

The visit to the notorious Yasukuni Shrine by an "unusually large" contingent of Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday, the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor 80 years ago, was mocked by analysts as a spit on US victory and denial of US contributions in World War II. They believe the US reaction to such a "challenge" will be interesting to watch.

Analysts believe that this rare "open defiance against the US" by Japan also exposed the hidden anti-US sentiment among Japanese right-wing conservatives, who believe the US should be blamed for throttling Japan's development, killing its national spirit and forcing Japan into an unequal alliance with the US. They predicted that the US will remain silent over the humiliation inflicted by Japanese politicians' move, yet such an indulgence will eventually backfire on the US. 

A group of 99 Japanese lawmakers, led by Hidehisa Otsuji of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead in Tokyo on Tuesday, the day marks the same date as Japan attacked Pearl Harbor 80 years ago.

In a sharp contrast, President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden marked the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Washington the same day.

The Japanese politicians' visit to the shrine is a hot button issue between Japan and China and South Korea, yet the visit on the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack highlights more on Japan-US relations, Da Zhigang, director and research fellow of Institute of Northeast Asian Studies at the Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times, noting that it is very rare for such a large group of Japanese politicians to visit the shrine on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. 

Da also pointed out this visit is a challenge to the US, as it is a denial of the US' contributions in World War II.

The relationship between Tokyo and Washington has been pulled closer under US President Joe Biden's Asia-Pacific policies which tend to unite allies to confront China. And Japanese politicians are also happy to serve as vassals of the US to snarl at China on issues of human rights and the Taiwan question, experts said. 

Chinese social media, which are often critical of Japanese officials' visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, were overwhelmed with the mocking of the Japan-US "alliance." Some even tagged the account of the US Embassy in China, saying "You seen this? You remember?" 

"Oh no, now the one who tags along stands up and slaps the US in the face? What are you gonna do big boss?" said another Sina Weibo user. 

Move will backfire

Yang Bojiang, director-general of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that it is this visit that exposed the long-hidden anti-US sentiment of Japanese right-wing conservatives, who believe that the US thwarted Japan's development and castrated Japan's national spirit by imposing a Peace Constitution that denies Japan the right to possess an army, navy or air force.

The US-Japan alliance is certainly not an equal relationship, and those Japanese right-wing forces actually are very dissatisfied with this inequality, observers said, noting that the right-wing conservatives tried to play with US most sensitive nerve by visiting the notorious shrine at the day which was deemed by Washington as "national humiliation." 

In 2014, a Japanese cabinet minister and about 150 lawmakers visited the Yasukuni Shrine, a day before then US President Barack Obama arrived in the region.

Then Japanese Internal Affairs Minister Yoshitaka Shindo, who was among those who visited, said that "as this visit was my personal visit, I don't believe that it will have any effect on the US president's visit."

Lian Degui, director of the Department of Japanese Studies at Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, pointed out that after the war, many Japanese right-wing politicians supported the US-Japan alliance in order to defend against China and the Soviet Union, yet opposed the trial imposed by US-shepherded allies against Japanese war criminals. 

The professor said that as the US is locked in a series of conflicts with China, Washington also hopes Japan enhances its military power, to serve as the former's good helper, because the US cannot singlehandedly contain China anymore. 

The US response will be interesting to see, said experts, who predicted that as Washington now is busy marshalling countries to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, Washington is likely to keep silent on this issue. 

The US indulgence, or silence, may be seen by Japan as tacit support. Japan may be encouraged to beautify other parts of its war crimes, or seek to change the Peace Constitution, which is a red flag trend, said Da. 

The US only wants Japan to serve as a hatchet man. It does not want Japan to possess high-end military equipment which can threaten the US, or be dragged into conflicts or even war by Japan's aggressive actions, which is not in line with US interests, said experts, warning that indulgence from the US to allow Japan to beautify its war history, or even make changes in its constitution, will shatter the US hope for Japan. "It will be let the beast out of the cage," said Da. 

Recently, Marvel movie Eternals, directed by Chloe Zhao, was criticized on Chinese internet for Marvel's first openly gay superhero crying after the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. Many netizens in China and South Korea said this overlooks Japan's acts of aggression and the pain they brought to other nations.

The scriptwriter did not mention that Japan first launched the aggression and just emphasized to reflect on the suffering of Japanese people. His view got great supports among Japanese netizens.

The Yasukuni Shrine is a spiritual tool and important symbol for Japanese militarists to launch a war of aggression, and it still enshrines 14 Class-A convicted war criminals from WWII, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at a Tuesday press briefing.

Zhao pointed out that the lawmakers' visit was a "deliberate move and provocation" as it was arranged on the anniversary of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, which took place on December 7, 1941. He also said that there's a museum in the shrine which says that the Pearl Harbor attack was a US conspiracy that dragged Japan into war. 

China is strongly dissatisfied with and has lodged solemn representations with Japan, said a spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in Japan.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry expressed "deep concern and regret" on Tuesday over the "large-scale" visit to a shrine that "beautifies Japan's colonial pillage and war of aggression."