Japan's Aso won't quit over Nazi comment

2013-08-02 10:00
Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso speaks before the press after a cabinet meeting at Aso's office in Tokyo. (Jiji Press/ AFP)

Japanese Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso speaks before the press after a cabinet meeting at Aso's office in Tokyo. (Jiji Press/ AFP)

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Tokyo — Japan's Finance Minister Taro Aso refused on Friday to resign or apologise over remarks suggesting Japan should follow the Nazi example of how to change the country's constitution stealthily and without public debate.

Following protests by neighbouring countries and human rights activists, he "retracted" the comments on Thursday but refused to go further.

"I have no intention to step down" as Cabinet minister of lawmaker, Aso, who is also the deputy prime minister, told reporters. The government also said it is not seeking Aso's resignation, which some opposition members have demanded.

Aso, who is known for intemperate remarks, drew outrage for saying Japan should learn from how the Nazi party stealthily changed Germany's pre-World War II constitution before anyone realised it. He also suggested that Japanese politicians should make visit Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine quietly to avoid controversy. Such visits currently take place amid wide publicity and are a sore point for Southeast Asian nations, who suffered under Japanese occupation during World War II.

Aso said on Thursday he was misunderstood and only meant to say that loud debate over whether Japan should change its postwar constitution, and other issues is not helpful.

In retracting his comments, he said it was "very unfortunate and regrettable" that his comments were misinterpreted.

World War II allies

On Friday, Aso said he stands by all his other remarks in the speech made earlier this week in Tokyo to an ultra-conservative audience.

Critics of the ruling Liberal Democrats are uneasy over the party's proposals for revising the US-inspired postwar constitution, in part to allow a higher profile for Japan's military.

Japan and Nazi Germany were allies in World War II, when Japan occupied much of Asia and Germany much of Europe, where the racial supremacist Nazis oversaw the killings of an estimated 6 million Jews before the war ended in 1945 with their defeat. Japan's history of military aggression, which included colonising the Korean Peninsula before the war, is the reason its current constitution limits the role of the military.

According to a transcript of the speech published by the newspaper Asahi Shimbun, Aso decried the lack of support for revising Japan's pacifist constitution among older Japanese, saying the Liberal Democrats had held quiet, extensive discussions about its proposals.

"I don't want to see this done in the midst of an uproar," Aso said, according to the transcript. Since revisions of the constitution may raise protests, "doing it quietly, just as in one day the Weimar constitution changed to the Nazi constitution, without anyone realising it, why don't we learn from that sort of tactic?"

Government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said that postwar Japan has consistently supported peace and human rights.

Off-the-cuff remarks

"Cabinet ministers should fully understand their role and make sure to avoid misleading remarks," Suga said on Friday. He said Aso has already retracted the Nazi comment and doesn't have to resign.

Aso often speaks in a meandering style that has gotten him in trouble for off-the-cuff remarks in the past. He has apologised previously for accusing the elderly of being a burden on society, joking about people with Alzheimer's disease, saying the ideal country would be one that attracts "the richest Jewish people", and comparing the opposition Democratic Party of Japan to the Nazis.

On Thursday, Aso insisted that he was referring to the Nazis "as a bad example of a constitutional revision that was made without national understanding or discussion ...I just don't want [the revision] to be decided amid a ruckus".

The Nazis' rise to power in the early 1930s amid the economic crisis brought on by the Great Depression was facilitated by emergency decrees that circumvented the Weimar constitution. So was Adolph Hitler's seizure of absolute power after he was made chancellor in 1933.

It was not a matter of revising but of abusing the constitution.

Opposition leaders condemned Aso's remarks, saying they showed a lack of understanding of history and hurt Japan's national interest. Some demanded Aso resign.

Aso's comments "sounded like praise for Nazi actions and are totally incomprehensible", said Akihiro Ohata, secretary general of the Democratic Party.

International condemnation

"Minister Aso's ignorance about historical facts is so obvious," said Seiji Mataichi, secretary general of the Social Democratic Party. "I also want to remind him that praising the Nazis is considered a crime in EU nations."

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a group dedicated to keeping alive the history of the Holocaust, urged Aso to "immediately clarify" his remarks.

"What 'techniques' from the Nazis' governance are worth learning? How to stealthily cripple democracy?" Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said in a statement.

In South Korea, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cho Tai-young said Aso's remark "will obviously hurt many people".

In China, which also suffered invasion and occupation by Japanese imperial troops before and during the war, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said the comments showed that "Japan's neighbours in Asia, and the international community, have to heighten their vigilance over the direction of Japan's development".

Hong also objected to Aso's comments on visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's 2.3 million war dead, including 14 wartime leaders convicted of war crimes.

Aso urged lawmakers in his speech to visit the shrine at times other than the closely watched anniversary of the end of the war on 15 August to avoid diplomatic flare-ups.

- AP
Read more on:    japan  |  nazis
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