While Donald Trump is not exactly known for his oratorial and diplomatic skills, either during live speeches or within the confines of his trademark outbursts in 140 characters or less on Twitter, he is positively Machiavellian compared to Japan's 76-year-old deputy prime minister and finance minister in Abe's cabinet, Taro Aso, whose entire career appears to be a series of diplomatic blunders and verbal gaffes.
It started in 2013 when the Japanese minister had a modest proposal to fix Japan's demographic time bomb, urging the country's elderly to "hurry up and die"; then three years, in 2016, making a stark Freudian slip and admitting alongside Paul Krugman that the only solution to the global "liquidity trap" created by central banks is "war", a resolution to which the world appears to be inching ever closer with each passing day. Then a few months, Aso reverted back to the 76-year-old's favorite topic, old people who refuse to die:
Gaffe-prone Finance Minister Taro Aso was again caught taking a swipe at the elderly, saying last week that he wondered how much longer a 90-year-old person intends to live.
The outspoken Aso, who is also deputy prime minister, made the comment at a Liberal Democratic Party rally in Otaru, Hokkaido, on Friday, where he said: “I recently saw someone as old as 90 on television, saying how the person was worried about the future. I wondered, ‘How much longer do you intend to keep living?’ “
Aso pointed to the more than ¥1.7 quadrillion of personal assets held nationwide, saying the money needs to be spent.
“The biggest problem at the present is how everyone is staying put,” he said. “If you don’t spend the money you have, that money will mean nothing. What’s the point of accumulating more wealth? Just looking at the money you have?”
Fast forward to today when Japan's finance minister has done it again, landing in hot water after explicitly suggesting Adolf Hitler might have had "the right motives." His comments promptly resulted in global outrage, and according to Reuters were criticized both at home and abroad, with the US-based Simon Wiesenthal Center saying the remarks were “downright dangerous.”
“I don’t question your motives (to be a politician). But the results are important. Hitler, who killed millions of people, was no good, even if his motives were right,” Aso told a meeting of his faction of the governing Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization which confronts anti-Semitism, hate speech and terrorism, said Aso’s comments could spoil Japan’s reputation. “This is just the latest of a troubling list of ‘misstatements’ and [they] are downright dangerous,” the center’s head, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement on Tuesday. “These words damage Japan’s reputation at the very time when all Americans want to show their solidarity with Japan, our sister democracy and ally, following the missile launch from Kim Jong-un’s North Korea."
The chairman of the main opposition Democratic Party's Diet Affairs Committee, Kazunori Yamanoi, also said Aso's remark was a serious gaffe. "The comment was extremely shameful as one made by a Cabinet minister. I cannot help but question his competence (as a minister)," he added, discussing the mental capacity of Abe's 76-year-old assistant, Kyodo news reported.
Faced with a furious public outrcry, on Wednesday Aso was forced to issue a statement, saying, "I raised an example of a bad politician. It is regrettable that [the comment] was misinterpreted and caused misunderstanding.... It is clear that Hitler was wrong in his motive too. I want to retract my comment because it was inappropriate to cite him as an example."
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To be sure, Aso is no stranger to public gaffes. In addition to the examples above, in 2013 Aso again retracted a comment about Hitler’s rise to power that was interpreted as praising the Nazi regime. Referring at the time to Japan’s efforts to revise its constitution, he said the constitution of Weimar Germany had been changed before anyone realized, and asked, “Why don’t we learn from that technique?”
There has been a spike in Nazi-related discourse in recent weeks: Aso’s gaffe comes just weeks after Donald Trump drew sharp criticism for comments that blamed “many sides” for this month’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, while back in June, Bank of Japan board member Yutaka Harada told a seminar Hitler’s economic policies had been “appropriate” and “wonderful” but had enabled the Nazi dictator to do “horrible” things.