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Sunday, March 03, 2019

When Chinese politicians told the Japanese not to apologise for World War II

"The onset of the Cold War cast a huge shadow over Japan’s relations with the newly founded People’s Republic of China (PRC). At the time, Japan was still under the American occupation, whereas China leaned to the Soviet side. As junior partners in two confrontational camps, the two countries found their room for diplomatic maneuvering greatly restrained, and they had been at war with each other only four years earlier.

Under these structural limits and agonizing memories, one would anticipate that China’s new leadership would take an assertive stance toward its former aggressor, now America’s alliance partner. China’s Japan policy, however, was far more flexible and cannot simply be dismissed as a subsystem of Sino—U.S. relations. Structural and emotional factors indeed constrain individuals, but leaders’ personal incentives still matter, especially in the newly founded PRC, where revolutionary leaders like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai enjoyed paramount authority.

An example illustrates these leaders’ dominant influence on shaping foreign policy direction. At the end of the civil war, American ambassador John Leighton Stuart (Chinese name Situ Leideng) decided to stay in Nanjing, the capital under siege, and attempted to make contact with the Chinese communists. His plan was bold: Even the Soviet ambassador was f‌leeing to Guangzhou with Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government. Stuart’s effort, however, was shattered by the publication of Mao’s indictment of America’s imperial control of China, which appeared under the the title, “Farewell, Leighton Stuart! [Bie le, Situleideng!],” adding a level of personal humiliation. A footnote described Stuart as “a loyal agent of America’s cultural aggression of China." Chinese middle school students subsequently were required to memorize and recite the article, engraving the name Situleideng in generations ofcountless young minds as synonymous with American imperialism. Ironically, in November 2008, nearly sixty years after the publication of Mao’s article and thirty years into the normalization of bilateral relations, Beijing staged a grand ceremony to welcome Stuart’s ashes back to Hangzhou, the city where he grew up. The man who was once a living embodiment of American plot against China is now touted as a symbol of Sino-U.S. friendship.

China’s leadership took a noticeably different approach toward Japan. Beijing’s purpose was still utilitarian: It wanted to create more breathing room for the new government among hostile neighbors. But its method was markedly softer. Its first statement on Sino-Japanese relations appeared in a short commentary published by the Xinhua News Agency on January 21, 1949, nearly nine months before the founding of the People’s Republic. “Japan’s Election and China [Riben de xuanju he Zhongguo],” called on “the two great nations of the Far East to construct a cordial friendship.” The People's Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, also published a series of editorials in the early 1950s to stress the importance of normalizing relations between the two countries.

In addition to official statements, Mao and Zhou personally invested in projecting a tolerant image to visiting Japanese guests. They launched what can be seen in retrospect as China’s first charm offensive or what some Chinese scholars refer to as a “peace offensive [heping gongshi] in an overall hostile political climate. At a time when China’s formal diplomatic relations were limited to countries in the communist bloc, Mao and Zhou met regularly with visiting Japanese delegations, attempting to court the guests by assuaging their concerns about war guilt and highlighting the bond between the two countries. As scholars of Sine-Japanese relations observed, an interesting pattern emerged: The Japanese delegations usually brought up the issue of war guilt, and Mao and Zhou would respond that there would be no need to apologize endlessly for the wrongdoings of someone else, the Japanese militarists. In a typical speech, Mao told a group of Japanese diet members on October 15, 1955,

Our ancestors quarreled and fought—So what? Let’s forget all this! We should forget—What is the use of keeping unpleasant things in our minds? . . . It makes no sense to once again demand that you pay your old debts. After all, you have already apologized, and you cannot apologize every day, can you? It is not good for a nation to be bitter all the time. We understand this point.

In another conversation with Nango Saburo, chief representative of Japan’s trade mission to China, Mao even jokingly thanked Japan’s Imperial Army, whose invasion “educated the Chinese people, without which they wouldn’t have woken up and united, and [the Chinese communists] would have remained inside mountains and could not make it to Beijing to watch the Peking Opera.”

Mao made these remarks in his typical style, framing serious issues in colloquial terms and poking fun at his own people and party. His dominant authority could allow him to do so without being questioned about his loyalty. But on a more regular basis, Premier Zhou best embodied China’s effort to woo Japan. Zhou was a master at projecting a conciliatory image for China on diplomatic occasions, and he also had more meaningful connections with Japan, having studied sporadically in the country for two years in his early twenties. Zhou met with Japanese delegations more frequently than with any other foreign guests during his twenty-seven-year tenure as China’s chief diplomat. China’s diplomatic archive shows that from May 1 5, 1950, when Zhou made his first statement on Japan policy as premier, through June 12, 1975, when he met his last Japanese guest, Fujiyama Ai’ichiro, a former foreign minister, Zhou met Japanese guests a total of 287 times. He received a total of approximately 610 Japanese delegations during these meetings.

Like Mao, Zhou repeatedly dismissed the need for Japanese delegations to apologize. Whereas Mao did so in his characteristic half-joking way, Zhou bashed China itself. On one occasion, Zhou pointed out to the remorseful Japanese guests that a Chinese ethnic group, the Mongolians, had also attempted to invade Japan, though they failed.” Zhou’s “self-criticism” probably offended Mongolians, for he was referring to the two attempted invasions by Kublai Khan in the late thirteenth century, when China was a part of the Mongol Empire. Such framing, however, renders his effort of posing as tolerant all the more obvious.

The Japanese politicians that Zhou wooed were not necessarily left-leaning. Takeiri Yoshikatsu, the then chief secretary of the quasi-Buddhist Clean Government Party and a messenger between the two governments, remembered with apparent admiration that at a July 1971 meeting, Zhou said that China would renounce its right to demand war reparations from Japan.

I had thought [the Japanese side] would have to pay around $50 billion. Zhou’s answer was totally not what I had anticipated, and my body began trembling. [Zhou told me that] China paid 250 million liang of silver for its loss to Japan in the 1894 war. To pay for this, heavy taxes were imposed, and the Chinese people suffered. How cruel it was! We do not intend to do the same to the Japanese people, as they should not be responsible for the war and made to carry the reparation burden.

Another politician enchanted by Zhou was Nakasone Yasuhiro, a conservative hawk who later became a dominant figure in Japanese politics in the 19805. Zhou’s wife later revealed that the premier sensed that Nakasone was likely to become Japanese prime minister in the future and consequently met with him three times in one day in 1973, with the last meeting ending at 1:30 in the morning. At these meetings, Zhou surprised Nakasone by criticizing Japanese socialists for being “unrealistic” in opposing Japan’s right to self-defense.”...

As China’s revolutionary legends sought to win the hearts and minds of the Japanese audience, their main resistance arose from within China. Yet their authority could allow them to quell such concerns without having their prestige questioned. In one case, Zhou commuted death penalties for Japanese war criminals locked in Chinese prisons. When lower-level prosecutors complained, Zhou explained that the sentence reductions were a means of accelerating reconciliation and that “twenty years from now you will come to appreciate that I made a correct decision?” Sai’onji Kazuteru, a reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, also revealed that Zhou would send advance teams to places where Japanese guests were to visit. Such teams were charged with explaining to the Chinese hosts that the Japanese visitors were China’s “important friends” and must be welcomed warmly and that normalizing relations with Japan was a necessity."

--- Japan and China as Charm Rivals: Soft Power in Regional Diplomacy / Jing Sun
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