Opinion and Editorial

Debating a non-issue

Filed on October 19, 2005

PRIME MINISTER Junichiro Koizumi of Japan has the countryís neighbours fuming, yet again. Following his recent landslide victory in re-election, Koziumi paid yet another visit to a controversial memorial to the World War II dead.

By taking a huge high profile delegation with him to the Yasukuni war shrine, Koizumi apparently sought to send out the message that he is still firmly rooted in his political convictions. Not surprisingly, Japanís neighbours notably China have reacted in anger to the Koizumi visit, his fifth since 2001. Beijing has called off a crucial visit by Japanese foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura to the country this month. South Korea has voiced its protest, too.

Despite the strong passions Japanís imperial past evokes in the neighbouring countries, it is hard to see why it should be an issue now, 60 years after the war.

We have no sympathy for the World War II criminals regardless of their nationality. But what is the point of going on and on about the war-plagued past after such a long period of time? Except for generating more hatred, enmity and bad blood between nations and neighbours, this dangerous preoccupation with history doesnít help anyone in any way. In the end, nations like individuals, have to forgive and forget their enemies, however vile their role may have been.

Asia can learn a lesson or two from Europe in this regard. Europe went through two of the bloodiest wars the world has ever seen. But the continent decided to put its past behind it in its larger interests. Neighbours such as Germany, Britain, France and Russia went to many wars against each other. But today they are close friends and good neighbours cooperating with each other and benefiting from each otherís experience in all areas.

If Europe could do it, why canít Asia do it? There already exist strong economic and social ties between Japan and China. Ditto with Koreas. China, along with other Asian tiger economies, has benefited immensely from Japanese technology, so has the rest of the world. Besides, Japan is the biggest trade partner and donor of China. Japan may have made some mistakes for which it has apologised numerous times. But it has also made immense contribution to the world economy and progress.

China and other neighbours of Japan, therefore, would do well to ignore such small irritants like occasional visits to a war memorial. Koizumi, the consummate politician that he is, may have his own reasons to justify the visit. So itís not the external gallery but domestic audience that may have been the target of Koizumiís message. In the end, itís in everyoneís interest to ignore the issue as what it essentially is: a non-issue.

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