The Mainichi Shimbun recently interviewed former Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, who is versed in Asian diplomacy, about the path Japan should take amid tense relations with China and South Korea, and nuclear and missile tests conducted by North Korea. This is the second installment of the two-part interview.
Mainichi: When it comes to Japan's relationships with China and South Korea, we face complicated territorial issues, such as the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture.
Fukuda: Because of various factors such as historical background and heightened nationalist sentiment, it is impossible to find an answer to territorial issues right away. We must keep in mind that territorial issues exist, and proceed to create good relationships with our neighbors. That, I think, is what a "Strategic Relationship of Mutual Benefit" was about. We must not use territorial issues as an excuse not to build friendly relations with China and South Korea.
Mainichi: In fact, travel among Japan, China and South Korea has increased, and understanding among the citizens of each country has improved.
Fukuda: In the case of China, anti-Japanese historical education has had the effect of generating a lot of misunderstanding toward Japan. But today, a large number of Chinese tourists come to Japan, and many of them realize their misunderstandings and change their views before going home. Germany and France have actively engaged in exchanges between their peoples to heal the wounds created by World War II. Japan, too, should promote such exchanges as a national policy.
Mainichi: With South Korea, the lawsuits brought by former Korean laborers are still ongoing. Improving relations between Japan and South Korea will not be easy.
Fukuda: There might be an element of South Korean people being slightly emotional about the issue. But Japan had at one time colonized South Korea. I believe that the humiliation people suffered from that is far greater than we Japanese can ever imagine. Hate speech campaigns are rampant in recent years, with people hurting the feelings of others. It's despicable. We are being put to the test, 72 years after the end of World War II.
Mainichi: Your father, the late former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda, proposed the creation of an "alumnus summit" in which former heads of state and former heads of the governments from various countries would debate topics such as world peace. Perhaps we need a East Asian version of that?
Fukuda: That would be a good idea. The former president of France, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and the former chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Schmidt, participated in such meetings and opened up to each other. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has known many heads of state and heads of the governments for a long time, and I think he would be able to participate in something like that when he steps down from his current post. However, the former leaders must have principles to which they can all relate.
Mainichi: Regarding the issue of historical interpretation, how Japanese leaders deal with Yasukuni Shrine is a sticking point.
Fukuda: To be honest, when I first became a lawmaker, I believed I had to go pay my respects at Yasukuni Shrine. But I was ill-advised. China adopted the position that the Japanese who were guilty were war criminals and leaders who started the war, and not ordinary soldiers. Japanese people must think about the reality of what a place that enshrines Class-A war criminals means.