[News analysis] Japan’s new Defense Minister offers revisionist take on historical aggressions

Posted on : 2016-08-07 12:12 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Tomomi Inada comes into the position with little expertise in defense, and close ties with Japanese PM Abe
New Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada walks past Self-Defense Forces guards during a welcome ceremony at the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo
New Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada walks past Self-Defense Forces guards during a welcome ceremony at the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo

On her first official day in office, Tomomi Inada, 57, Japan’s new Defense Minister, expressed a de facto denial of Japan’s history of military aggression, rekindling the flames of historical conflict in East Asia, which were on the verge of dying down.

Inada’s remarks are expected not only to trigger a backlash from China and other of Japan’s neighbors but also to have ramifications on pending diplomatic issues. One of the issues that could be affected is a military information sharing agreement between South Korea and Japan that Japan has long wanted South Korea to adopt.

During Inada’s first press conference with reporters covering Japan’s Defense Ministry on Aug. 4, Japanese reporters asked Inada whether Japan’s past wars were wars of aggression, as if to test her historical attitude.

Inada attempted to dodge the question by remarking that the press conference was not a place for voicing her personal views, but reporters kept piling on the pressure. She was being asked the question in her role as Defense Minister, which is the head of the military body called Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, they pointed out. They said that it was important for the Defense Minister to state whether Japan’s past wars had been wars of aggression and that the Defense Minister’s historical perspective and the way she runs the military had a bearing on practical issues. Finally, they observed that discussions of this sort could take place during meetings with the leaders of China, South Korea and western countries.

In the end, Inada made plain that she really thinks these wars were not wars of aggression. The question of whether the Sino-Japanese Wars and World War II were wars of aggression, Inada said, was “a matter not of fact, but of opinion.”

Since telling the budget committee of Japan’s House of Councillors in Apr. 2013 that “wars of aggression had no set definition,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also adopted a policy of historical revisionism. In December of that year, he paid his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines Japanese war criminals, and the following year he reviewed the Kono Statement, an apology.

When asked about the comfort women issue – a source of sharp diplomatic friction between South Korea and Japan – Inada expressed her personal view that compulsion had not played a role in the comfort women’s recruitment. There could not have been a worse appointment for Abe, who places a high premium on strategic cooperation with South Korea.

With Japan’s Defense Minister expressing such opinions, there are concerns that she will have a negative impact on Japan’s relations with China and other countries in the region. But there are unlikely to be any radical shifts in Japan’s relations with South Korea, at least during the administration of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Park has altered South Korea’s policy by strengthening the trilateral alliance between South Korea, the US and Japan and by reaching an agreement with Japan about the comfort women on Dec. 28, 2015.

During Park’s address on Liberation Day in August of last year, she hinted that she had basically accepted a statement made by Abe, which took an ambiguous stance on Japan’s wars of aggression and did not make any comment about Japan’s colonial rule. Park limited her criticism of the statement to acknowledging that there were some “unfortunate sections.”

“My opinion is consistent with the views expressed in the 70th anniversary statement that the Prime Minister released last year,” Inada said on Friday in response to a question about the comfort women. Inada was referring to Abe’s statement.

South Korean government officials have for now taken a wait-and-see approach to Japan’s new Defense Minister.

“Moving forward, Inada could adopt a broader perspective on issues of state,” said an official from South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

Another official suggested that Inada would be unlikely to affect actual defense policy since she is not an expert in the area of security.

Inada’s blunders on her first day in office are likely to fuel skepticism inside Japan about her appointment as Defense Minister. Aside from Inada’s far-right historical perspective, questions are being asked in Japan about her suitability for the position, given the fact that she is a layperson in the area of defense.

Since it was decided that she would become the next Defense Minister, concerns have been raised about whether she will be able to properly answer questions before the Japanese Diet and whether trouble will occur during negotiations with China or South Korea.

One of the main reasons that Abe appointed Inada to become Defense Minister was political: he is trying to collect a pool of candidates to succeed him as prime minister from among those with a similar political creed.

When Inada was asked during the press conference on Friday about the possibility of Abe (who is a strong supporter of Inada) extending his time as Prime Minister, she said that she “viewed it positively.”

By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent and Lee Je-hun, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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