A renowned U.S. scholar is urging Korea and China to actively work together in order to improve relations with Japan and prevent its nationalistic Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from making further provocations.
"If there can be some improvement in Korea-Japan and China-Japan relations over the coming 12 months, it would put enormous pressure on Abe not to revisit the Yasukuni Shrine," said Prof. Gerald Curtis of Columbia University.
"But if there is no progress made in Japan's relations with his neighbors, he will go back to Yasukuni. He does not have anything to lose," the expert on Japan said during a speech hosted by the Institute for Global Economics.
"When he went to Yaskuni last time, not many people liked the idea but many liked the fact that he poked his finger in China's eye," he said.
Curtis saw through Abe's excuse for visiting the Yasukuni Shrine.
"You cannot go to the Yasukuni and not be implicated in Yasukuni's political view that Japan fought and unfortunately lost in a glorious war to free Asia from Western colonizers," he said.
"Even if you move the remains of the 14 war criminals to a different shrine, you cannot undo the reality," he said.
Abe visited the Yasukuni, where 14 Class-A war criminals are enshrined, the first trip by a Japanese prime minister in seven years. He said that his trip was aimed at remembering his ancestors.
"Sending emissaries to the U.S. to explain Yasukuni? That will not help. It only makes things worse. Protesting the erection of the statues to honor and commemorate the sufferings of comfort women? … That only backfires against Japan," Curtis said
"I have no illusion that this will happen. But it would make much more sense for the Japanese government to send representatives along with the Koreans and the Korean-American communities to pay respect to the victims of sexual violence at these statues."
The professor also chided Abe's comments.
"What's missing from Abe's rhetoric and language about the past is that he hasn't said as clearly as he should say there is no place in today's Japan for the values and the aspirations that led Japan down the path of imperialism, colonialism and aggression," he said.
With regard to Abe's economic initiative, Curtis said Abe oversold his efforts on structural reform, which generated undue expectations on dramatic changes.
The triple whammy of a fast-aging society, low birthrate and reduction in population will weigh heavily on the world's third-largest economy. But overall, he said that Japan will fare well.
As a political scientist focusing on Japanese politics and U.S.-Japan relations, Curtis headed the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia between 1974 and 1990.
He received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star in 2004 from the Japanese government.