Alternative Memorial for War Dead Left Out of 2006 Budget

The “Group to Consider a National [War] Memorial” is a rare ruling-opposition (LDP, Komeito, and DPJ) caucus of lawmakers that is campaigning for the Japanese government to establish an alternative to Yasukuni shrine. The idea, proposed by a 2002 advisory panel and supported by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, is popular among those in the Japan Policy Community (including influential types in Washington) who would prefer to see a speedy, concrete solution to the Yasukuni issue rather than all of Koizumi’s useless (and possibly dangerous) saber-rattling.

Well, don’t count on it this year, based on this year’s budget requests. This was covered in slightly less detail in the Japan Times, but you can enjoy my abstract of the Yomiuri:

Memorial Facility Survey Funds Left Out, PM Firms Stance: “Public opinion not ripe”

PM Koizumi has firmed his stance not to include funds to survey the possibility of a national war memorial in the national budget draft, a move seen to be caused by a lack of public interest.

Government sources explained that the “environment has not been prepared to include survey funds in next year’s budget,” which will be formally decided on Dec. 22. The funds were not included in the MOF’s budget recommendations, released the same day.

Another part of the decision, say government officials, was that including the funds would not likely have contributed to repairing relations with China and South Korea.

The govt plans to continue deliberating on the merits of including the funds while “carefully watching public opinion.” There is momentum within the “Group to Consider a National [War] Memorial,” which crosses party lines to include members from the ruling LDP and New Komeito as well as the main opposition DPJ, to demand the inclusion of such funding in next fiscal year’s revised budget or reserve funds. However, it is unlikely to be included in a budget during Koizumi’s tenure.

When SK President Roh Moo-hyun asked that Koizumi consider the establishment of a national war memorial during the Korea-Japan summit on June 20, the Japanese leader accepted, saying he would “consider it taking into consideration circumstances including public opinion.” However, the PM’s October 17 visit to Yasukuni Shrine is quickly becoming a diplomatic problem due to China and SK’s strong protests. It seems as if the PM thought that it would look like he would be giving in to their pressure if he included such funds in this year’s budget.

According to a November poll conducted by Nikkei, 49% of Japanese people would approve, while 31% would disapprove of a national war memorial. I guess in the Land of Consensus even clear numbers in favor of such a memorial smack of “divided public opinion.” Of course, Koizumi didn’t let a little thing like internal division stop him from pushing through postal privatization, did he?

It’s funny, the national war memorial solution not only makes sense and is relatively uncontroversial domestically, the president of Korea actually tabled it as a WAY OUT of the tiresome Yasukuni issue! Of course, Koizumi would never “cave in,” and the driving force behind not caving in is Koizumi’s pigheaded “shut up” strategy: sweep Yasukuni under the rug without actually conceding anything to the Chinese or Koreans. It’s painful to see Foreign Minister Taro Aso defending Koizumi over Yasukuni one minute, and the next making an impassioned but futile plea for the nations of East Asia to recognize Japan as Asia’s “thought leader.” The Koizumi government should take some of its own advice: speeches like Aso’s will continue to fall on deaf ears as long as Japan does not deal with its diplomatic problems openly and in good faith. In other words, “environment has not been prepared” for Japan to be in a position of leadership in E. Asia.