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Monday, April 21, 2014

China and Japan: Seven decades of bitterness

China and Japan: Seven decades of bitterness

"Should today's generation bear the responsibility for past mistakes?...

I have long felt that I was not taught enough at school, so last year I wrote an article about the shortcomings of Japan's history education. It pointed out that the syllabus skims through more than a million years of Japan's relations with the rest of the world in just one year of lessons. As a result, many Japanese people have a poor understanding of the geopolitical tensions with our neighbours.

My article made many people in my home country, including some of my own family, uncomfortable.

It was not a foreigner criticising Japan, it was a Japanese reporter openly criticising Japan in front of global audience.

"Traitor" and "foreign spy" are just two of the many names I was called. "Don't you love your own country?" one person asked on Twitter. Of course I do.

When I confronted Japan's past, it was like experiencing a bad breakup. I went through similar stages - shock, denial, anger and sorrow. I eventually came to accept that I could not change what had happened...

Why don't other Asian countries, where the occupying Japanese army also killed many civilians, hate the Japanese as much as China and South Korea do?

"Hate" may be a too strong word - but it seemed to me to describe the feelings of Chinese protesters who were burning Japanese cars...

Singapore, where I've lived since 2006, also suffered at the hands of Japanese soldiers, but there have not been anti-Japanese protests there for decades.

Different sources cite different numbers of casualties, but 50,000 to 100,000 ethnically Chinese Singaporeans are believed to have been killed in what is known as the Sook Ching massacre. In a small city state of some 800,000 in 1942, that is a huge number...

"When we became independent from Malaysia in 1965, the general assumption was that we had about three years before we would have to crawl back into Malaysia. So when Japan came along and offered financial support and investments, the most logical thing was to accept them instead of criticising what they had done to us in the past"...

"To [Filipinos], Japan was just another colonial power after the Spanish."

In fact, China also seemed to be heading towards a pragmatic relationship with Japan in the 1970s, under Chairman Mao Zedong, when the two countries restored diplomatic relations.

"Chinese Communist propaganda at the time emphasised the victory of the communist side during the Chinese civil war," says Robert Dujarric, director of Temple University's Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies - referring to the war between Mao's Communists and nationalists under Chang Kai-shek, which lasted until 1949.

In 1972, when the then Japanese Prime Minister, Kakuei Tanaka, apologised for what Japan did during the war, "Chairman Mao told him not to apologise because 'you destroyed the Kuomintang, you helped us come to power'," Prof Dujarric says.

But the Party's propaganda seems to have taken a turn towards nationalism after the Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the Chinese army crushed to death students who were demanding democratic rights, on 4 June 1989.

"Before the 4 June, it portrayed the Communist Party as victorious and glorious - it defeated the nationalist Kuomintang army in the civil war. But after 4 June, the government started emphasising China as a victim," says Prof Akio Takahara, who teaches contemporary Chinese politics at Tokyo University.

The Communist Party now casts itself as the party which ended a century of humiliation at the hands of outsiders, he says.

"And the way they do it is to breed hatred against the most recent invader and aggressor."

Switching on the television in my Chinese hotel room, it was easy to find television programmes dramatising China's resistance to the Japanese invasion. As part of the country's "patriotic education" policy, more than 200 were made last year.

We spoke to an actor who "died" eight times a day, playing the role of a Japanese soldier in countless anti-Japanese dramas.

Had I grown up watching them, I would probably conclude that Japan was a horrible nation...

Years later, when she travelled to Japan to recount her experiences, people hugged her and apologised, saying they had no idea their ancestors had done such things.

Japan's leaders have also apologised to China many times.

Ma Licheng, who used to write for China's state-owned People's Daily newspaper, says he has counted 25 apologies from Japan to China overall. But none of these - nor Japan's financial aid to China, amounting to 3,650bn yen ($35.7bn; £21.8bn) over the years - have been covered in the Chinese media, he says, or taught to children at school.

"What Japan did in China during the war was horrible," Ma wrote in his book Beyond Apologies. "But demanding that they kneel on the ground is pointless. The wording of the Japanese apologies may not seem enough to us, but to them, they were a huge step so we have to accept them and move on."

When he published his book, he was called a traitor - a response he describes as "normal", given the emotions the subject stirs.

Haining confirms that she was not taught about these things at school. On the other hand, she doesn't think it would make a big change to Chinese attitudes towards Japan, even if children did learn about them."


Why Are Japan’s Apologies Forgotten?

"The “history” debate that constantly attends Japan postulates that the country has never apologized for past aggression within the region. In fact, Japan has provided Asian countries with assistance that was a form of compensation. The Asian Women’s Fund lacked clarity, but Tokyo offered payments to victims of sexual slavery. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama declared in 1995 that Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression (…) caused tremendous damage and suffering,” expressing his “remorse and (…) heartfelt apology.”

Earlier, in 1993, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono spoke of “the involvement of the military authorities” in the “comfort women” issue and added that “Japan would like (…) to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those (…) who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable (…) wounds.” Several prime ministers wrote to surviving sex slaves noting that “with an involvement of the Japanese military (…) [it] was a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women. (…) our country, painfully aware of its moral responsibilities, with feelings of apology and remorse, should face up squarely to its past.”

This is far more apologizing and contrition than the world average.

So why has Japan gained so little recognition for these actions? One reason, noted previously, is that its Axis partner, Germany, has performed better on the atonement front. But this is not the only factor.

Another one is international politics. Strategic imperatives dictated that Israel, Western Europe and, after the Cold War, Central European states better their ties with the Federal Republic of Germany. In Asia, however, Japan’s position has deteriorated. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), not wasting much time on the past, wanted Tokyo’s money, which it got in vast amounts. Today, Beijing no longer needs the cash. Japan’s ally, the U.S., has replaced the Soviets as the enemy. Moreover, the CCP now fosters Japanophobia to bolster its chauvinistic credentials.

South Korea was a poor autocracy when it normalized relations with Japan in 1965. It received Japanese economic assistance as part of the treaty, but Seoul indemnified Japan against claims related to the colonial era. Since democratization in the late 1980s, many Korean leaders have worked hard to better relations with Japan. However, there are also electoral incentives to play the “anti-Japan card.” Being labeled “soft on Japan” is a curse. This is particularly true for President Park Geun-hye, whose father, the late general-president, began his rise as a lieutenant in the Army of Japanese Manchukuo (a patriotic choice, but one that carries an image problem today)...

Koreans also noted reports that Japanese diplomats complained to a New Jersey town about a memorial to the “comfort women”...

Another recent episode, which is minor but illustrative, concerns Ahn Jung-guen, the Korean assassin of the Japanese Resident General in Korea in 1909. Referring to plans to erect an Ahn statue in China, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called him a “criminal.” One of my alma maters, Yale University, boasts a sculpture of Nathan Hale, a colonial subject and activist who, like Ahn, was hanged by the authorities of the day. But one would not imagine Her Britannic Majesty’s government taking offense. Former colonies routinely honor those who fought the occupiers, often in barbaric ways.

Interestingly, in 1964, Prime Minister Eisaku Sato (Abe’s grand-uncle) awarded the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun to the American General Curtis LeMay, whose B-29s incinerated Japanese cities during the war. Koreans might be surprised to learn that Ahn, who like the American aviator considered he was waging a just war on Japan, is a “criminal” but that LeMay belongs to a select group of foreigners granted prestigious decorations (he was thanked for his work with the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces, but it is unlikely premier Sato was unaware of that LeMay’s men killed around 100,000 civilians in Tokyo alone)."


"yeah Japan has apologized a lot and paid a lot of both China and South Korea, and South Korea under Park and China under Mao made peace with Japan, accepted apologies, accepted no interest loans, and cash payments...this was all part of re-normalizing relations with between those nations. However now China wishes to ignore this for domestic political gain, and South Korea says that Park was a dictator and didn't represent the Korean people's interests, so things are not settled (not that this is Japan's fault). This is why Japanese don't understand what is going on, they feel these matters have been settled. Even Yasakuni Shrine (where I have been) is a weird issue. It is a private shrine, that houses remains of not only war criminals, but Korean and Taiwanese people who died fighting for the Japanese empire (which is why some Taiwanese go there and pray including the old Present Lee Deng Hui), this is similar to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C. that has the remains of Civil war confederate troops who betrayed the U.S. and fought for slavery...but it also has the remains of all soldiers who fought for the U.S., including black soldiers. Also unlike Yasakuni it is public, I don't see black Americans getting upset about Arlington, those people are dead. The shinto believe that in death all are equal and have to be judged by the gods, so they won't remove the remains of certain people, and this is a privately owned shrine, so the government cannot force it closed. In this way I think the CCP and the South Korean government takes advantage of victims of WWII and uses them. It's sick."
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