For the Asian Wall Street Journal
April 28, 2005
Time to Move On
By Yoshihisa Komori
Former China Bureau Chief
The Sankei Shimbun
It must be agonizing to be a Japanese Prime Minister when it comes to dealing with China over the so-called “history issue.” He must respond to belligerent Chinese demands by apologizing for events in a previous century, as if none of his numerous predecessors had ever apologized, although in fact every single one of them did. Sadly, he will find his apology is never enough; instead of acceptance, the Chinese will raise the bar, adding never-ending vague demands and additional conditions —“apology must be based on genuine remorse” or “accompanied by actions.” Then he will patiently listen to the lectures denouncing Japan’s “militarism” past and present, by leaders of the same regime whose militancy has caused widespread international concern.
This is the plight in which Prime Minister.Junichiro Koizumi found himself when he issued the latest apology for Japan’s past aggression in a speech at the Asian-African summit in Indonesia last week. Sure enough, he was told by Chinese President Hu Jintao in a two-some meeting the next day that Japan’s remorse must result in “sincere activities,” making clear the pattern that Japan’s apology as China initially demanded would not be enough. In contrast, Mr. Koizumi did not seek a Chinese apology or compensation for damages the Chinese government allowed violent demonstrators to inflict on Japanese diplomatic and commercial facilities in China.
Looking beneath the surface, one finds that the so-called Japanese-Chinese “history issue” touted as the cause of the recent violent turn of events is in large part manufactured by the Chinese Communist Party. It has far more to do with diplomatic maneuvering and contemporary politics than history per-se.
Contrary to popular Chinese contention, post-war Japan drew bitter lessons from the history of war and militarism and adopted a peaceable and democratic national foundation including the thorough rejection of militarism. Article 9 of Japan’s post-war Constitution, which bans the use of force except for pure self-defense of Japanese own territory, is representative. For the past 60 years, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have never engaged in combat. Taking it to the extreme, even the SDF unit stationed in Iraq needs to be protected by the Dutch and Australian forces. This institutional constraint combined with strong aversion to militarism and things military among its people has made post-war Japan the single most pacifist nation in the world.
In the wake of the defeat of the World WarⅡ, Japan accepted the judgment of the international War Crime Tribunals that resulted in punishment of tens of thousands of Japanese citizens accused of war crimes, including the execution of over 1,000. Furthermore, Japan paid enormous amount of war reparation to the countries in Asia. Japan also provided China over 60 billion dollars of economic assistance, even though China’s Communist and Nationalist governments both renounced the right to demand formal reparations. This part of “history” China chooses to ignore.
Domestically, too, the Chinese government has chosen not to inform its own people about post-war Japan. Chinese history textbooks, while providing mountains of teachings, much of them uncorroborated, about Japanese atrocities and cruelties, ignore Japan’s aid to post-war China and teach virtually nothing about the post-war Japan. A senior high school textbook titled “Chinese Modern History”, for example, that covers nearly 8 decades up to the 1990’s devotes 9 out of 23 chapters to the “anti-Japanese struggles” but gives merely a two line sentence to the entire 6 decades of post-war Japan. Official teaching guidance explicitly instructs teachers to “provide students with the catalyst for keeping strong hatred and grudge against crimes of aggression committed by the Japanese imperialists,” thus encouraging younger generations to maintain hostilities against contemporary Japan. In the same vein, the state-controlled media has avoided reporting on peaceable and friendly activities of its neighbor, Japan.
The Chinese diagnosis of Japanese attitudes toward history is always unilateral. The historical “frame of reference” has only been dictated by the Chinese side. Any Japanese attempt to provide a more objective frame of historical reference has been automatically labeled as “an effort to whitewash past wrongs.” Japanese efforts simply to point out factual errors and inconsistencies in the Chinese version of history meet with the same perfunctory reaction.
China also portrays Mr.Koizumi’s visit to Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine as an act of glorifying past aggression and of reviving militarism. It is unfortunate that China has missed the point. Mr. Koizumi, in fact on every visit, has denounced militarism and past aggression and expressed remorse. The shrine is a memorial to 2.5 million Japanese who died serving their country throughout its modern history, not just during WWII. Visiting the shrine is a pacifist gesture purely domestic in nature. Inclusion of the names of 14 Class A war criminals among the enshrined souls derives from the custom of seeking forgiveness for the deceased’s soul, not for promoting war. China, however, completely ignores this aspect and continues to accuse Japan in ways comparable to denouncing American political leaders’ visit to the tomb of General Robert E. Lee of the Confederacy as an act of trying to revive slavery. China’s criticism of certain Japanese history textbooks conveys a similar distortion based on its own one-sided frame of reference.
In the meantime, while Japanese political leaders may continue to apologize to China out of somewhat misplaced habit of acknowledging historical guilt and avoiding confrontation, the public has noticed that China’s leaders never move on. China’s current dogged refusal to apologize for encouraging and allowing violent anti-Japanese demonstrations is but the most recent example. A national poll conducted in Japan soon after the Koizumi-Hu meeting showed that 71% of the respondents rejected the Chinese demand on history. The Japanese public is recognizing that the so-called “history issue” has far less to do with truth than with the Chinese Communist Party’s objective of keeping Japan as the convenient villain for its own political reasons. It is time China takes note.