Abe’s ac­tions an in­aus­pi­cious start to year

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Ja­pan’s at­ti­tude to­ward its heinous World War II his­tory has long caused ten­sion with its two main neigh­bors, China and the Repub­lic of Korea. And there has been no sign that Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe in­tends to ease the ten­sion in 2014; in­stead it looks like he in­tends to in­flame it fur­ther.

On the first an­niver­sary of his premier­ship on Dec 26, Abe chose to visit the Ya­sukuni Shrine, where 14 no­to­ri­ous Class-A WWII war crim­i­nals are en­shrined. It was the first such visit by a sit­ting Ja­panese prime min­is­ter in seven years.

Then on the New Year’s Day, Ja­panese In­ter­nal Af­fairs and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Min­is­ter Yoshi­taka Shindo paid, what was prob­a­bly, his fourth visit to the shrine in the past year.

Abe and Shindo said that their vis­its were not to hurt the feel­ings of Chi­nese and Kore­ans and should not be­come a diplo­matic is­sue. They even said the pur­pose of their vis­its was peace.

This shows how will­ing some Ja­panese po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are to run roughshod over the feel­ings of those who suf­fered from Ja­pan’s bru­tal mil­i­tarist past: such as the “com­fort women” in Korea, China and the Philip­pines, those abused by the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army Unit 731 in its bi­o­log­i­cal ex­per­i­ments in North­east China and the rel­a­tives of the 300,000 killed in the Nan­jing Mas­sacre, crimes that Abe and his rightwing co­horts have tried to ei­ther deny or white­wash over the years.

Ger­man po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are a stark con­trast when it comes to WWII his­tory. Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and her pre­de­ces­sors have never done any­thing to open old wounds. In­stead, for­mer Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Willy Brandt knelt on the wet ground in De­cem­ber 1970 at the mon­u­ment to the Jewish ghetto vic­tims in War­saw, Poland.

No won­der Merkel’s spokesman St­ef­fen Seibert on Mon­day re­minded Ja­pan to “hon­estly live up” to its role in the hor­ri­ble events of the 20th cen­tury. He said only on the ba­sis of this hon­est ac­count­ing is it pos­si­ble to build a fu­ture with for­mer foes, a con­vic­tion Ger­many has taken to heart.

This is ex­actly where Ja­pan’s prob­lem is. Some say that Ja­panese prime min­is­ters have apol­o­gized re­peat­edly for WWII, so the past should no longer be an is­sue.

If that is true, then the ques­tion is why so many Chi­nese and Kore­ans still feel strongly that the Ja­panese apolo­gies have never been sin­cere or ac­cepted. It’s not just be­cause Ja­panese politi­cians of­ten use half-hearted words, such as re­gret, when they should be con­demn­ing the atroc­i­ties, but also what Ja­pan has done and is do­ing, such as re­vis­ing the his­tory of WWII in its text­books.

The US gov­ern­ment has so far said it was “dis­ap­pointed” at Abe’s visit. It should use much stronger words in de­nounc­ing Abe’s acts and urge Ja­pan to face up hon­estly to its past. Af­ter all, Abe’s shrine visit came only 19 days af­ter the 72nd an­niver­sary of the at­tack on the Pearl Har­bor, which drew the US into WWII.

Ja­pan may be an ally of the US to­day, but dur­ing WWII, it was China that was the ally, as ex­em­pli­fied by Gen­eral Claire Chen­nault’s Fly­ing Tigers, a group of Amer­i­can pi­lots who fought along­side Chi­nese against Ja­panese in China dur­ing WWII. So the US should not be hi­jacked in any sense by Abe while anx­iously pur­su­ing its re­bal­anc­ing to Asia-Pa­cific strat­egy. This is a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, jus­tice and con­science.

The year 2014 did not start well for any­one who hopes to see a thaw in re­la­tions be­tween Ja­pan and its two neigh­bors, China and the ROK. It never will if Ja­panese po­lit­i­cal lead­ers are un­will­ing to hon­estly and sin­cerely face up to the coun­try’s mil­i­tarist past and stop hu­mil­i­at­ing the WWII vic­tims in neigh­bor­ing coun­tries. The au­thor, based in Wash­ing­ton, is deputy ed­i­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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