KOLKATA (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met on Thursday the son of an Indian judge who opposed punishing Japanese war criminals convicted by an Allied tribunal, a move that has come under fire in some other Asia countries.
“Your father is still respected by many in Japan,” Abe said during the 20-minute meeting with the 81-year-old Prasanta Pal, whose father is a hero to Japanese nationalists.
Radhabinod Pal was the only member of the 11-judge Allied war crimes tribunal after World War Two to voice dissent at the process, criticising the panel as an example of victors’ justice.
Japanese media have said Abe’s meeting in Kolkata could fray improving relations with China, which suffered under Japan’s military aggression in the first half of the 20th century.
An editorial last week in Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s biggest newspaper, criticised Abe’s planned meeting with Pal, saying that it was aimed at claiming innocence for the war criminals.
“He will travel all the way to India to embrace the descendants of a judge hailed as a hero by Japanese militarists for claiming innocence for Class A war criminals,” it said.
At the meeting, Prasanta Pal showed Abe a picture of his father with Abe’s grandfather, former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, during a 1966 visit to Japan.
“After meeting the prime minister and the great honour I received, I won’t mind even if I die now,” Prasanta Pal said.
Kishi, who was listed as a war criminal but never convicted, was an ardent admirer of the judge.
A senior Japanese government official said the meeting had no “political purpose”, adding that eastern India was an important focus of investment for Japan.
Abe set off a furore in March after saying there was no proof the Japanese government or military had forced women — mostly Asians — to work in World War Two brothels, and Thursday’s meeting could rekindle debate about his views on wartime history.
The prime minister has reiterated that he stands by a 1993 government apology to the women, but as the first Japanese prime minister born after the war, he has in the past questioned the legitimacy of the Allied tribunal.
After seeing Pal, Abe attended a luncheon hosted by the West Bengal government, which is keen to see Japanese investment in its infrastructure.
Abe is wrapping up a three-day visit to India, which was designed to boost trade between Asia’s largest and third-largest economies and counter China’s growing strength.
On Wednesday, he used a speech to a joint session of India’s parliament to call for a new partnership of democracies in a “broader Asia”, that would include India, United States and Australia, but not China.
Abe heads to Malaysia later on Thursday for a visit before returning to Japan on Saturday.
Additional reporting by Bappa Majumdar in Kolkata