Japan’s Aso won’t quit over Nazi comment

Taro Aso
Taro Aso

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.

The ruling Liberal Democrats want to revise the US-inspired postwar constitution, in part to allow a higher profile for Japan’s military.

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.

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.

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?”

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”. – AP