The trouble with Abe's nationalistic aides

The trouble with Abe's nationalistic aides
Despite negative feedback from Washington, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (second from left) visited Yasukuni last year, drawing an immediate reaction of “disappointment” from the US embassy.

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is receiving flak all round - a situation made worse by friends and like-minded people that he has recruited to push his nationalist right-wing agenda.

Of particular note are Mr Seiichi Eto, one of several special advisers to the Prime Minister, and Mr Koichi Hagiuda. The latter is also a special adviser to Mr Abe but in his capacity as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

These two men have never held Cabinet positions. But they share Mr Abe's nationalistic views, and are said to have the ear of the Prime Minister.

Mr Abe, 59, even addresses the older Mr Eto, 66, as "aniki", which means "big brother".

Mr Eto and Mr Hagiuda were believed to have talked Mr Abe into praying at the controversial Yasukuni war shrine last year, despite knowing it would create a diplomatic firestorm.

And it was Mr Eto, not some more senior official, that Mr Abe dispatched to Washington last November to seek the United States government's understanding for his Yasukuni visit.

Despite negative feedback from Washington, Mr Abe visited Yasukuni on Dec 26, drawing an immediate reaction of "disappointment" from the US embassy.

Mr Abe continued to let Mr Eto do the talking.

In February, in a YouTube video rebuking Washington, Mr Eto said: "Why doesn't the US treat its ally Japan better? We are the ones who are disappointed."

The government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, rushed to explain that Mr Eto was only voicing a "personal opinion".

However, with an April state visit by US President Barack Obama in the works, the offending video was quickly removed and Mr Eto was made to retract his remarks.

But he had already done his job of signalling to Mr Abe's right-wing constituency that the Japanese leader couldn't care less what Washington thought.

Last month, Mr Abe vowed to honour the landmark 1993 Kono Statement acknowledging Japan's forcible use of "comfort women" sexual slaves in World War II, including Korean women. This was to persuade Korean President Park Geun Hye to agree to a trilateral summit at The Hague, along with Mr Obama.

But on the weekend before the summit, Mr Hagiuda upset Seoul by declaring that if a review of the "comfort women" issue threw up fresh evidence, the government should consider rewriting the 1993 Statement.

Government spokesman Suga quickly took Mr Hagiuda to task.

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