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Outside View Japans Quiet Nuclear Debate

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
by Tetsuya Kataoka
UPI Outside View Commentator
Tokyo (UPI) Mar 29, 2006
Japan lost to China in the most recent dispute over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine for the war dead, where the so-called Class A war criminals are honored. But Japan won more than it lost -- a debate over whether Japan should go nuclear seems to have gotten off to a good start, thanks in good measure to that defeat. Funny thing is neither side is crowing.

China's anti-Japan campaign on "history consciousness," as they call it, is not about indulging an old grudge. A communist dictatorship is a lot smarter than that. Beijing had to substitute nationalism for Karl Marx when he "died" with the fall of the Soviet empire and when its own cold war -- suspended by the Nixon-Kissinger détente -- came back to life in the Taiwan Strait.

To neutralize the U.S. military presence right next door in Okinawa, China decided to split the U.S.-Japan alliance by harping on the memory of Pearl Harbor, as Chairman Jiang Zemin did on his visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in 1997. Never mind that America fought Japan to build a "Christian and democratic China," not a communist state.

In the meantime, Koizumi came to power in 2001 with the vow to "destroy" his own Liberal Democratic Party -- which he defined as the "forces of resistance" to his reform -- and change the war-renouncing constitution. Having in view a Japan in full military alliance with the United States, he anticipated the need to resurrect the Yasukuni Shrine to honor the future war dead. But with Beijing objecting to his scheme, all hell broke loose. When U.S. President George Bush visited him the next spring as a cheerleader, Koizumi proposed that they together visit Yasukuni as a re-enactment of Ronald Reagan's visit to the Bitberg military cemetery with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Bush instead proposed to visit another shrine. At that point Koizumi should have transferred Gen. Hideki Tojo and his company to another shrine, as I had proposed, but he stuck to his revisionist history, foregoing Bush's company. With neither side giving in, the frosty stalemate lasted five years while a parallel territorial dispute over China's claim to a natural gas well in the East China Sea reached boiling point.

The upshot was Bush's trip to Kyoto to talk to the prime minister last November. In view of the delicate nature of his message, Bush had to deliver it in person so as not to undercut Koizumi. "The United States and Japan at one time were sworn enemies," said Bush. "And now here we are sitting down as friends. In other words, it's possible to forget the past, it's difficult, but it is possible." China had won, it seemed.

I suspect, however, that the bottom line for Bush was not Koizumi's choice of shrine so much as the fact that his feistiness was giving China ample excuse to go tit-for-tat, leading up to what could become a second war in Asia -- on top of Iraq -- that Japan could not handle alone. China has already shown its intentions more than once vis-à-vis Taiwan and vis-à-vis Japan last year jointly with Russia. Koizumi was forced into running risks comparable to Ariel Sharon's but without his wherewithal, the Israeli arsenal.

Vice-President Dick Cheney addressed the problem on NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2003: "It is also more important that our friends in the region deal effectively with (North Korea) ... Japan, for example, may be forced to consider whether or not they want to readdress the nuclear question." Cheney was referring to President Nixon's nuclear proposal to Japan back in 1972, which was rejected by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato.

A review of circumstantial evidence since Kyoto leads me to suspect that Bush opened a second front of his own against China by means of a secret proposal while in Kyoto, a proposal that reiterated Cheney's demarche. A month after the Kyoto meeting, Koizumi's Foreign Minister Taro Aso declared to his host Dick Cheney, no less, "Japan must also be nuclear armed." He could not have made the remark, let alone leak it to the media, idly.

Come to think of it, Koizumi was incredibly jovial after his talk with Bush in Kyoto, too jovial for a man asked merely to make amends with China. With a broad smile, he turned to Bush in the Temple of the Golden Pavilion and quipped, "Look, the sun is rising."

Tetsuya Kataoka is Senior Research Fellow, retired, of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is currently writing a book on Japan's decline as a major world power. United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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