China sees chance of Japanese remorse

Posted in China , Japan | 01-Sep-09 | Author: Jian Junbo| Source: Asia Times

A local newspaper shows a photo of Japan's main opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Hatoyama on its front page Monday Aug. 31, 2009 in Shanghai, China.

AALBORG, Denmark - With the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) becoming Japan's ruling party after its landslide victory in the just-concluded general elections, a number of analysts and experts in China expect the two countries to move closer.

The DPJ, which won 308 seats in the Lower House to the Liberal Democratic Party's (LDP's) 119 on Sunday, has always been friendlier towards China than the LDP.

However, a position a party takes when it is in opposition is one matter - what it does when it takes power is another.

China's leaders, as well as many ordinary Chinese, have long maintained that a major obstacle to better Sino-Japanese ties is how the Japanese government views the facts of Japan's invasion of China and other Asian counties in the World War II-era.

From China's perspective, the Japanese government under the LDP's virtually continuous rule since World War II has never shown sincerity in this regard. For example, Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff in the LDP government, once said that Japan's war in East Asia over the first half of the last century was a "campaign of racial liberation from white rule, which is seen 'positively' by many countries".

The comment is difficult to take seriously, yet this view of history is popular among Japan's right-wing and its conservatives, who often beautify Japan's invasion of its Asian neighboring countries in the 20th century. And this right-wing thinking appears on the rise - a recently published book outlining Tamogami's version of history has sold over 100,000 copies.

An article written by him last year, titled "Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?" was submitted to the Apa Group (a Japanese corporation which is run by a right-wing owner) for a composition competition in October of last year - it won first prize. The article was then published as a book titled Japan Is Not an Aggressor, in December of 2008. It appears the publication has attracted quite a few Japanese readers. (See Japanese general hoisted by own canards, Asia Times Online, November 13, 2008)

The government took no action to stop the publication of the book, although Tamogami was dismissed as chief of air staff.

More than 60 years after the end of World War II, Japan has yet to give a formal apology to the countries it invaded or their peoples.

Famous Italian political philosopher in the Middle Ages, Niccolo Machiavelli, in his best-known masterpiece The Prince, said that as long as the purpose was correct, one could do anything. That is, the end justifies the means. Machiavelli's teaching was an infallible law for rulers in pre-modern times. Nevertheless, this obsolete theory does not hold in the modern age.

States cannot allow individuals or groups to take a nefarious approach toward realizing an aim, however lofty or great it may look. Goodwill resulting in a bad result can never be used as a legitimate excuse for a person to justify what he or she has done to escape due punishment. This is common sense and applies to international relations, in that no country should unlawfully use violence against another out of its "goodwill".

In consideration of this, it is surprising that some Japanese have accepted the theory of the end justifying the means, and use it to justify the Japanese invasion of China, Korea and other Asian countries. If China today occupied Okinawa with "goodwill", would Japan accept it?

Yet, 140 years since the the Meiji reforms (the beginning of Japan's modernization started in 1868) some people in Japan believe that if Japan aimed to improve East Asia, then what it did in the 1930s was good and legitimate.

From a Chinese perspective, Tamogami and his supporters and followers should understand that, in the first place, neither the Chinese government nor the Chinese people invited or requested Japanese troops to occupy their motherland from 1931 to 1945.

Maybe the would-be "Manchurian empire" welcomed the Japanese invasion of northeast China, but everybody knows the emperor, Aisin-Gioro Puyi, was a puppet of Japanese militarists. What really represented China's "welcome" of the Japanese invasion was the then-Republic of China's president Chiang Kai-shek's formal declaration of war against Japan, and the Chinese people fighting the invaders.

In reality, when the Japanese military entered China's inland in the 1930s - at a time Japan still controlled Taiwan as its colony, it having been taken from China in 1895 - European colonists were already retreating from China, except for Hong Kong, which remained occupied by Britain, and Macau controlled by Portugal.

Tamogami uses the term "racial liberation from white rule". But how can a war started by Japan that lasted eight years and saw some 20 million Chinese die be called "liberation"? The reality was that before the Chinese could be "liberated" from white rule, they had to be ruled by the Japanese until 1945.

Tamogami and his followers should understand the distinction between a historical fact and a historical opinion.

It's not strange for a nation to reconstruct its history based on some typical ideas of its own. British scholar Benedict Anderson argued that a nation is an "imagined community". In reality, every nation and state has the right to reconstruct its history and identity based on its own ideas. Different nations and states often have different explanations of the same historical incident that conflict with one another.

Japan has the right to reconstruct its national identity and history. But it cannot change historical facts when explaining Sino-Japan relations in the 1930s and 1940s. Tamogami claimed the war started by Japan in Asia was seen "positively" by many countries. Is this a fact?

For China, the fact is that during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, Japan invaded China, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 9.1 million Chinese civilians, the rape of thousands of Chinese women and the theft of Chinese treasures - the suffering lasts to this day.

Clearly, Tamogami and his supporters don't acknowledge these facts.

It would be better for all East Asian countries, including Japan, to look forward, and not become involved in a complicated historical labyrinth. At the same time, each country cannot totally cut its links between today and the past, and Japan is no exception. But Japan would do better to face historical issues more bravely, frankly and sincerely, as Germany has done.

With Yukio Hatoyama poised to become the next Japanese premier, he and his Democratic Party of Japan have an opportunity to do this after so many years of LDP rule that failed to tackle the issue.

Dr Jian Junbo, assistant professor of the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China, is currently a visiting scholar of Department of History, International and Social Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark.