TOKYO -- Japan's Shinzo Abe may want to stay away from Yasukuni shrine while in office to avoid raising diplomatic tensions, said Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Koichi Hagiuda, modifying his earlier stance that the prime minister ought to visit the war-linked holy place regularly.
Hagiuda, a lower house member of Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, became a deputy chief cabinet secretary in the recent cabinet reshuffle.
Excerpts from his recent interview with The Nikkei follow.
Q: The issues of wartime "comfort women" and Japan's leaders praying at Yasukuni shrine continue to color relations with China and South Korea.
A: We need to get the message across correctly that [these subjects] cannot be played as diplomatic cards. The prime minister and I both recognize that women's human rights were trampled on in the 20th century and have talked about creating a world where that cannot happen again. Japan needs to show that its actions won't change. Historical issues ought to be left to historians.
Q: You argued a year ago that the prime minister should visit Yasukuni once a year. Has your thinking on this changed?
A: I would like to see the prime minister go at least one time a year, but if that leads to breakdowns in diplomacy, praying from afar is also an option.
Q: Can the LDP accomplish the constitutional reform that you yourself are seeking?
A: People cannot think about the nation as a whole or engage in a debate on the constitution unless they feel stability in their everyday lives. I think our first priority should be getting the economy on a steady footing and allowing people the luxury to think about the future. After that, we could move on to constitutional reform as the next stage.
Amending the constitution is a fundamental goal of the LDP and the starting point for the prime minister's entry into politics.
We are going to try to build momentum [for constitutional reform], but this isn't something that has to be accomplished under Abe's government.
Q: What do you say to the criticism that the prime minister has stocked the cabinet with close friends?
A: I myself seem to be regarded as a part of Abe's inner circle, but my career hasn't been as a follower of the prime minister. As a special adviser to him as LDP president, I conveyed party members' views without hesitation and voiced my opinions. When we don't agree, I even raise my voice at times. I want to be a friend who's not afraid to speak his mind.
Q: What do you expect your role as deputy chief cabinet secretary to be?
A: I have a different career background and upbringing from those of my predecessor Katsunobu Kato. Kato cut his teeth in public administration, knows Kasumigaseki [the heart of Japan's national bureaucracy] through and through, and has a great ability to get things done. When I told the prime minister that I can't work like Mr. Kato, he said, you just handle politics. I intend not to overreach but focus on my strong suits as a liaison between the party and the prime minister's office.