The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Nationalists further sour Korea-Japan ties

By Shin Hyon-hee

Published : July 31, 2013 - 19:12

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Taro Aso (Yonhap News)
Taro Aso (Yonhap News)

Buoyed by a recent election sweep, high-flying Japanese officials are again churning out inflammatory remarks and backing visits to a controversial war shrine, posing another stumbling block to defrosting relations between Seoul and Tokyo.

At a lecture on Monday, Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Taro Aso called for a swift constitutional amendment, citing how the Nazis neutralized Germany’s Weimar Constitution in the 1930s.

“It is a mistake to think that crying for a protection of the Constitution will bring peace,” he said. “The purpose of the constitutional revision is the country’s stability and well-being; constitutional amendment is a simple means.”

Aso also said it was “strange” not to pay respect and gratitude to the fallen patriots venerated in the Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, which marks Korea’s 1945 liberation from Japan’s colonial rule.

The temple enshrines Japanese war dead including World War II leaders responsible for massacres, sex slavery, forced labor and other atrocities.

Aso, a close confidant of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and other cabinet ministers earlier this year sent diplomatic shockwaves through the region by worshipping at the shrine. Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se immediately called off a planned trip to Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Japanese Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura took issue with a banner displayed at a football match between Korea and Japan on Sunday in Seoul. It read, “There is no future for a people that have forgotten history,” referring to the archipelago country’s imperial past.

Shimomura said the banner raised questions about “the nature of the people.” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry called the comments “rude.” As for Aso’s lecture, spokesman Cho Tai-young said that such remarks “clearly hurt many people,” urging Tokyo to show a “humble attitude as an assailant that invaded neighbor countries.”

Amid mounting concerns over Japan’s rightward shift, its frigid relationship with Korea is showing no sign of thaw.

Though Abe appears to be refraining from causing a stir himself for now, his cadres are flaunting their nationalist credentials, basking in the ruling party’s landslide victory in the upper house election last week.

With a comfortable majority in both chambers, the hawkish Abe could speed up controversial projects such as an amendment of Japan’s pacifist constitution and expansion of Self Defense Forces operations.

By Shin Hyon-hee (