05/16/2006, 00.00
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Yasukuni could sink Koizumi's speech to US Congress

by Pino Cazzaniga

A letter by a US MP has drawn reactions in Japan and South Korea. He says: "For the generation that remembers Pearl Harbour, a visit by Koizumi to Yasukuni, after his speech to Congress, would be an affront".

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – The controversial visits of Junichiro Koizumi to Yasukuni shrine may jeopardise a planned inervention by the Japanese prime minister to Congress during his upcoming visit to the United States. An American MP has asked Koizumi for assurance that he will stop visiting the shrine as a pre-condition for making a speech to a joint session of Congress at the end of June.

The request was made by Henry Hyde (82) in a letter addressed to the Speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert. "Without this assurance, the visit of Koizumi to Capitol would dishonour the place where Franklin Roosevelt made his famous 'Day of Infamy' speech, the day after the surprise attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbour (December 1941)." Hyde said "a speech by Koizumi to Congress is welcome because it is made by a representative of the one of the most loyal allies of the United States". But, he added, "for the generation that remembers Pearl Harbour, a visit by Koizumi to Yasukuni after his speech to Congress would be an affront". One of the war criminals venerated there is Hideki Tojo, who was prime minister when Japan attacked the United States. Hastert has not yet replied to the MP's letter.

So far, the US government has refrained from openly criticizing the Japanese premier for his repeated visits to the "shrine of the fallen" where among others, 14 Japanese war criminals condemned by the "Tokyo Tribunal" are honoured. Only at diplomatic level has advice been given, to the effect that the visits should stop because of their negative effects on ties with China and Korea.

The letter is sure to place the President himself, George W. Bush, in an embarrassing position. He is getting ready to offer a red-carpet welcome to Koizumi on what will be the latter's last state visit. In September, the mandate of his chairmanship of the liberal-democratic party will expire, and he will also quit managing the government.

For his part, Koizumi, responding to a question in parliament, said: "The government of the United States understands the real reason behind my visits to Yasukuni." According to what was written by the daily newspaper, Asahi, government officials in Tokyo hold that the letter expresses the opinion of one single politician.

The media of South Korea beg to differ. "Prime Minister Koizumi," writes the columnist of the daily newspaper Joongang, "cannot take the proposal of Mr Hyde lightly, as if it were just the opinion of one person." In Japan too, there are more than a few citizens and politicians who oppose the visits of the premier to Yasukuni. According to the Korean daily, "the secretary-general of the liberal-democratic party, Makoto Koga, who is also chairman of Nippon Izokukai, the association of relatives of war dead, has said proposed changes to the sanctuary of war dead include the removal of those plaques honouring war criminals."

Asahi added: "This latest incident confirms the importance of the Yasukuni problem. Effectively, in the context of relations between Japan and neighbouring Asian countries, it will predictably play a key role in the choice of Koizumi's successor."

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