Taro Aso has done it again. This time, the terminally gaffe-prone deputy prime minister has invoked the ire of a New York City-based Jewish human rights group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, after suggesting that Japan could learn a thing or two from Nazi Germany when it comes constitutional reform.
“First, mass media started to make noises about Japan’s proposed reforms, and then China and South Korea followed suit,” Aso said in a speech at a right-leaning think tank on Monday. “The German Weimar Constitution changed, without being noticed, to the Nazi German constitution. Why don’t we learn from their tactics?”
In response to the inflammatory remarks, the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a statement on its website calling on Aso to further clarify his comments. The statement reads: “The only lessons on governance that the world should draw from the Nazi Third Reich is how those in positions of power should not behave.”
On Wednesday reporters asked Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to address Aso’s remarks. Suga declined to comment, saying, “Deputy Prime Minister Aso should answer that question.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party has clearly come out in favor of revising Japan’s post-WWII pacifist constitution. Amid rising regional tensions, so the argument goes, Japan needs a fully functional military. This would mean scrapping Article 9, which renounces war. Alongside expanding military cooperation with the United States, those in favor of doing away with Article 9 have called for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to be renamed the National Defense Forces.
A report in The Japan Times points out that Aso often makes sarcastic remarks when criticizing someone. Could he have just been cheekily criticizing politicians who are bent on changing the constitution at all costs?
Regardless, the historical context and Japan’s actions during WWII ensured that Aso’s remarks were not well received by Japan’s neighbors.
Following Aso’s remakrs, on Wednesday Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said, “We demand the Japanese side reflect on its history, fulfill its commitments on historical issues and win the trust of Asian neighbors and the international community through concrete actions.”
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young lashed out against Aso’s remarks on Tuesday. “Such remarks definitely hurt many people,” Cho was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency. “It is clear what such comments on the (Nazi) regime mean to people of the time and to those who suffered from Japan’s imperialistic invasion.” Cho went on to call on Tokyo’s leadership to “be prudent in their words and deeds.”
Although this request from Seoul is a reasonable thing to ask, it’s a tall order for Tokyo.
Making gaffes on this scale is par for the course for Aso. This January he made headlines for telling Japan’s elderly to “hurry up and die” to lessen the burden on the nation’s overtaxed medical system. Then there were his comment that it was “lucky” a storm ravaged the smaller cities of Anjo and Okazaki, killing two, instead of ravaging more populous Nagoya.
As far back as 2001, while serving as economy minister, Aso told a group of foreign journalists: “It’s good that foreigners are working in Japan. This may be arbitrary and biased, but a good country is a country where rich Jews would want to live.”
A list of Aso’s biggest gaffes can be seen here.