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U.S. walks fine line in shrine fight
By Brian Knowlton International Herald Tribune
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2005
WASHINGTON The Bush administration has taken a decidedly low-key approach to the bitter controversy over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, which many Asians view as tantamount to an endorsement of the Japanese imperialism under which they once suffered.
At the shrine, the spirits of Japan's war dead - including 14 judged as war criminals - are worshiped. But while Beijing and Seoul reacted angrily to Koizumi's visit Monday, the United States was cautious.
"We would hope that countries in the region could work together to resolve their concerns over history in an amicable way and through dialogue," the State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday.
"I think that everybody understands some of the sensitivities and concerns in the region," McCormack said. "And we would just hope that those with concerns about this issue could work together with the Japanese government to resolve any of those concerns through the use of dialogue and in the spirit of friendship." He would not be drawn to say much more.
The United States stands uncomfortably in this dispute between vitally important friends and trading partners, but also not detached - because of its own wartime struggle against Japan - from the historical roots of the matter.
"We're treading a really fine line on this, and there is a debate among people in Washington about what we should do," said Derek Mitchell, a former special assistant to the U.S. defense secretary for Asian affairs. "Some people think we're sort of implicated in this by our silence, by not coming out more forcefully in principle," he said.
Sensitivities in the region in many ways remain sharper than they do in the United States.
"It is extraordinarily difficult for the United States to step in on an issue between valuable allies," said Charles Pritchard, a former special U.S. envoy for negotiations with North Korea and a former director for Asian affairs in the National Security Council. "It is a no-win situation."
"If speaking out is not the right way to go, keeping silent is not helping the relationship, particularly with the South Koreans," he said. "So I think the administration would prefer that the Japanese take a good look at this situation and try to resolve it."
But another analyst, John Tkacik, a former U.S. diplomat in China and Taiwan, said he believed that the administration was most concerned not with the past but its present vital alliance with Japan.
"I think American policy makers are looking at a far broader context," he said - an underlying interest in having a U.S.-aligned and democratic Japan in Asia, a country not unduly fearful of China.
Tkacik, a senior research fellow at the politically conservative Heritage Foundation, said that "there is a very palpable feeling among a lot of U.S. policy makers that China is basically picking its scabs on the Yasukuni shrine thing - that this doesn't need to be an issue and the Chinese are making it an issue." In his view, the shrine visits are "simply a statement that Japan continues to mourn its dead and it will not be lectured to by any other country," particularly not a Chinese Communist leadership that has not always had clean hands.
"There is no sentiment in the administration for humoring the Chinese," Tkacik said.
Mitchell agreed that the fundamental U.S. interest was in maintaining close relations with Japan - but without needlessly offending China or South Korea.
"We have a vision we're implementing of a much more active and robust U.S.-Japanese alliance in the region that is constructive and helps provide peace and stability," said Mitchell, the senior fellow for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "To the degree that Japan is not seen as constructive, as having not dealt with its past, and therefore not welcome to be involved in the region, it hurts us."
The controversy is wrapped in an older debate over how Washington and Tokyo - close allies now, bitter enemies then - should mark the end of World War II, without ignoring Japanese atrocities or the atomic bombings of Japan.
The debate periodically resurges, as in the controversy in Washington in the 1990s over how frankly and fully to portray a Smithsonian Institution display of the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Koizumi's latest visit to the shrine brought a quick reaction: China on Tuesday postponed a scheduled visit by the Japanese foreign minister, Nobutaka Machimura, and South Korea's foreign minister, Ban Ki Moon, canceled a planned visit to Japan.
とても孤独な日本 - Newsweek