Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, considered the frontrunner to succeed Naoto Kan as prime minister, has stirred up a hornet's nest of controversy in South Korea with a comment about Class-A war criminals.
At an Aug. 15 news conference, Noda reiterated his belief that Class-A war criminals were not in fact war criminals.
The following day, South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a commentary which described Noda's comment as "inappropriate." It said his remarks "deny Japan's imperialist invasive past."
In October 2005, when the Democratic Party of Japan was still in the opposition, Noda submitted a written question to the government in which he wrote, "The honor of all 'war criminals' has been recovered in a legal sense. In other words, those people who have been referred to as 'Class-A war criminals' are not war criminals."
At the Aug. 15 news conference, Noda was asked if there had been any change in his beliefs on the issue.
"There is no fundamental change in my thinking," Noda said.
He was also asked about the appropriateness of prime ministers visiting Yasukuni Shrine, which memorializes 14 Class-A war criminals as well as the war dead.
While saying such a decision was up to the individual who becomes prime minister, Noda did not say what he would do if he takes over from Kan on the grounds that was a hypothetical question.
The commentary issued by the South Korean foreign ministry said Noda's remarks "fail to conform with the Japanese government's official position revealed in the prime minister's statement."
South Korean media vilified Noda in their Aug. 16 editions, with the JoongAng Ilbo calling his remarks "reckless" and Chosun Ilbo describing Noda's stance as "a viewpoint of the ultra-rightist and militaristic elements."
(This article was written by Asako Myoraku and Yoshihiro Makino.)
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