Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee hostile to Yasukuni Shrine VIP visits

After China and Korea's, Singapore...


Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday
rapped Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for
indicating he would visit Yasukuni Shrine again this

In an interview with Japanese reporters ahead of his
trip to Japan next week, Lee said Koizumi's continued
visits to the war-linked shrine would show a lack of
repentance for Japanese military atrocities during World
War II and could hurt the progress of Japan's ties with
Asian countries.

"From the point of view of many countries in the region
who have experienced Japanese occupation, it raises many
unhappy memories," he said.

"A visit to the shrine is interpreted by many people, I
think including many in Singapore, as being a gesture of
not entirely accepting responsibility and not accepting
that Japan did wrong during the war and that these were
war criminals and they should not be honored," he said.

The criticism is one the harshest leveled by a Singapore
leader over visits by Japanese prime ministers to the
shrine in Tokyo.

Although Singapore was invaded and occupied by Japanese
troops from 1942 to 1945 and more than 50,000 civilians
are believed to have been killed during the period,
controversies over Japan's wartime atrocities generally
do not rouse as much ire here as in China or South

Lee said visits to the shrine were a stumbling block for
Japan's relations with neighboring Asian countries as it
showed that Japan had not come to terms with its
militarist past, unlike Germany.

"As a result, when a visit takes place, the temperature
goes up all over the region, especially in China and
especially in Korea. That is regrettable because in
fact we should be looking ahead, looking towards the
future and how we can work together rather than be tied
up with the past, but unless we comes to terms with the
past and acknowledge it, then it's very difficult to
move ahead," he said.

Koizumi hinted Monday that he will visit Yasukuni Shrine
despite repeated objections by Beijing and said other
countries should not interfere in the way Japan mourns
its war dead.

Yasukuni Shrine is regarded as the symbol of Japanese
militarism by China and South Korea because it enshrines
war criminals along with the war dead.

Lee said that the Japanese government's recent approval
of controversial revisions to school textbooks, which
Asian countries perceive as whitewashing Japan's wartime
military atrocities, is another sign that Japan had "not
come to terms with the past."

Lee, however, expressed appreciation for Japan's
positive contributions to Southeast Asia over the past
decades and said he believes that Japan will continue to
play an important role in the region despite the rapid
economic rise of China.

He said that Singapore looked forward to Japan playing a
bigger role in the region and would be willing to back
Japan's bid to become a permanent member of the U.N.
Security Council.

"You are a natural candidate, you make many
international contributions, and you have the ability to
contribute internationally to peace and stability and
prosperity in the world," he said, though adding that
reforming the United Nations and expanding the permanent
membership is likely to be a "long and difficult

"China is growing rapidly but Japan is still a lot
bigger" in terms of the breadth and depth of its
economy, technological prowess, and the sheer scale of
its overseas investment, he said. "There are many
things which Japan can do which China will not be able
to do for quite a long time, and I think there is a role
for Japan to play in the region," he said.

On Japan's proposal for co-chairmanship of the first
East Asia Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur in December
this year, Lee said he wants the Association of
Southeast Asian Nations to play a central role as the
"core" participant of the summit.

The summit is expected to include the 10 ASEAN members,
Japan, China, South Korea, plus possibly India,
Australia and New Zealand.

Asked about whether he thinks the United States, which
has often insisted it should not be left out of major
groupings in Asia, could participate in the summit, Lee
said "I am not sure that the U.S. would fit in

"They have an interest in what is happening in the
Asia-Pacific, but if you look on the other side of the
Pacific, there are groupings, NAFTA (North American Free
Trade Agreement)...which they participate in and we
accept that's part of the regional cooperation in the
two Americas."

Lee also urged Japan to hurry up in forming a good
free-trade deal with ASEAN, saying it was in Japan's
strategic interest to do so. He said current
negotiations have been bogged down by political
sensitivities in Japan over market access to
agricultural products and moved at a slower pace than
ASEAN's FTA talks with China.

"From a strategic point of view, it is in Japan's
interest to have a good FTA with Southeast Asia, with
ASEAN, and we hope that will develop," he said.

Lee, who assumed the premiership late last year, is
expected to hold talks with Koizumi during his visit to
Japan from May 23 to 28. He said he would like to
encourage Japan to continue to play an active role in
the development of Southeast Asia during the trip, and
contribute more in non-economic areas, and also urge
Japanese companies to invest in Singapore.

end of quotes

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