Ja­pan should face up to its ag­gres­sive past

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

On Dec 26, 2013, Shinzo Abe, the Ja­panese prime min­is­ter, paid a bla­tant ho­mage to the Ya­sukuni Shrine, where 14 Class-A war crim­i­nals of World War II are en­shrined. He did so with com­plete dis­re­gard of the strong op­po­si­tion from the Chi­nese peo­ple and other neigh­bor­ing Asian coun­tries. In the shrine, there were 28 Ja­panese po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers con­victed by an in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary tri­bunal af­ter WWII.

The war of ag­gres­sion waged by Ja­panese mil­i­tarism dur­ing 1930s and 1940s brought huge dis­as­ters to peo­ple in China and the Asian Pa­cific re­gion. In the Ja­panese Invasion War, the Ja­panese killed 11,324,000 Chi­nese; most of the vic­tims were women and chil­dren. In the Pearl Har­bor at­tack, the Ja­panese killed 2,402 Amer­i­can sol­diers, de­stroyed 250 fighter planes and 18 mil­i­tary ves­sels. The Ja­panese also in­vaded Korea and South­east Asia, caus­ing mas­sive ca­su­al­ties.

But from Ja­pan’s point of view, there is no stain on its his­tory. No one has ever had to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for all th­ese acts. Ja­pan has never made an ef­fort to re­flect on its ag­gres­sive past, ei­ther deny­ing the atroc­i­ties or down­play­ing them with empty phrases such as “it was just war”. No Ja­panese politi­cian has ever shown a great ges­ture of atone­ment like Willy Brandt did when he got on his knees at a me­mo­rial to the War­saw ghetto in 1970. In­stead, they are keen to pay trib­ute to the Ya­sukuni Shrine, which is a spir­i­tual tool and sym­bol of Ja­panese mil­i­tarism in its war of ag­gres­sion.

Why did the Chi­nese and Korean gov­ern­ments con­tinue to ex­press strong in­dig­na­tion and con­dem­na­tion over Shinzo Abe’s ac­tion? To us, the vis­its to the shrine by Ja­panese lead­ers can­not sim­ply be an in­ter­nal af­fair for Ja­pan, or a per­sonal mat­ter for any Ja­panese of­fi­cial. Nor does it con­cern only China-Ja­pan and Korea-Ja­pan re­la­tions. Th­ese vis­its by their very na­ture are at­tempts to white­wash a his­tory of ag­gres­sion and colo­nial­ism by mil­i­taris­tic Ja­pan, over­turn the just trial of Ja­panese mil­i­tarism by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and chal­lenge the out­come of WWII and the post-war in­ter­na­tional or­der. At stake is the credit of that coun­try’s lead­ers in ob­serv­ing the pur­poses and prin­ci­ples of the UN Char­ter and up­hold­ing in­ter­na­tional peace. It is a choice be­tween ag­gres­sion and non-ag­gres­sion, be­tween good and evil and be­tween light and dark. Re­gret­tably, what Mr Abe did has raised the specter of mil­i­tarism ris­ing again in Ja­pan.

Mr Abe’s track record pro­vides ev­i­dence. Since tak­ing of­fice in 2012, he has been talk­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about jus­tice, democ­racy, peace and di­a­logue. But the re­al­ity is seen in his ac­tions. He is un­re­pen­tant about Ja­pan’s mil­i­tarist past and makes no apolo­gies for it. He has openly ques­tioned whether his coun­try should be de­fined as an “ag­gres­sor”, and did his ut­most to gloss over its his­tory of mil­i­taris­tic ag­gres­sion and colo­nial rule.

In May 2013, Mr Abe caused great of­fence in China and Korea when he was pho­tographed pos­ing in a mil­i­tary jet boldly marked with the num­ber 731. This was the code of an in­fa­mous Ja­panese bi­o­log­i­cal war­fare re­search fa­cil­ity per­form­ing hu­man ex­per­i­ments in China dur­ing the war.

With th­ese prece­dents, the world should be on high alert. Mr Abe wishes to amend the post-war paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion, im­posed on Ja­pan by the USA. Close at­ten­tion should be paid to his col­leagues, such as Taro Aso, the deputy prime min­is­ter, who as­serted that Ja­pan could “learn” from Nazi Ger­many about re­vis­ing con­sti­tu­tions. Mr Abe has worked hard to por­tray China as a threat, aim­ing to sow dis­cord among Asia-Pa­cific na­tions and cre­ate a con­ve­nient ex­cuse for the res­ur­rec­tion of Ja­panese mil­i­tarism.

Last year, China-Ja­pan re­la­tions were also be­set by the farce of Ja­pan “pur­chas­ing” the Diaoyu Is­lands. More re­cently, Ja­pan de­lib­er­ately stirred up “China threat” hys­te­ria in mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity fields to un­der­mine China’s se­cu­rity in­ter­ests. In­stead of rein­ing in his acts, the Ja­panese leader has gone out of his way to once again cre­ate a se­ri­ous in­ci­dent on the is­sue of his­tory. It has erected a new ma­jor bar­rier to the im­prove­ment and de­vel­op­ment of bi­lat­eral ties.

I would like to say a few more words about the Diaoyu Dao Is­lands. Diaoyu Dao and its af­fil­i­ated is­lands are China’s in­her­ent ter­ri­tory in all his­tor­i­cal, ge­o­graph­i­cal and le­gal terms, and China en­joys in­dis­putable sovereignty over Diaoyu Dao. Ja­pan’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Diaoyu Dao dur­ing the Sino-Ja­panese War in 1895 was il­le­gal and invalid. Af­ter World War II, Diaoyu Dao was re­turned to China in ac­cor­dance with such in­ter­na­tional le­gal doc­u­ments as the Cairo Dec­la­ra­tion and the Pots­dam Procla­ma­tion. No mat­ter what uni­lat­eral step Ja­pan takes over Diaoyu Dao, it will not change the fact that Diaoyu Dao be­longs to China. For quite some time, Ja­pan has re­peat­edly stirred up trou­bles on the is­sue of Diaoyu Dao. On Sept 10, 2012, the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment an­nounced the “pur­chase” of Diaoyu Dao and its af­fil­i­ated Nanx­iao Dao and Beix­iao Dao and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the so-called “na­tion­al­iza­tion”. This is a move that greatly vi­o­lates China’s ter­ri­to­rial sovereignty.

China and Canada were war­time al­lies. Sev­en­tytwo years ago, nearly 2,000 Cana­dian sol­diers fought side by side with the Chi­nese peo­ple and Al­lied forces to de­fend Hong Kong from Ja­panese invasion. More than 500 Cana­dian sol­diers lost their lives in the bat­tle or died later in cap­tiv­ity. Seven decades have passed since that hor­ri­ble war. Yet there are al­ways some in­cor­ri­gi­ble peo­ple in Ja­pan who show no signs of re­morse for war crimes. In­stead, they seek to rein­ter­pret his­tory. They pose a se­ri­ous threat to global peace. The Chi­nese will not al­low such at­tempts. I am sure Canada and all other peacelov­ing peo­ple will not re­main in­dif­fer­ent.

China and Canada are both on the win­ning side of the Sec­ond World War, sac­ri­fic­ing tremen­dously in the fight against Nazism. We played a key role in es­tab­lish­ing the post-war in­ter­na­tional or­der that has de­liv­ered great ben­e­fits for mankind. Our two coun­tries have a com­mon re­spon­si­bil­ity to work with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to op­pose ef­forts to nul­lify its out­come. We should join to­gether to up­hold the UN Char­ter and to safe­guard world peace.

The au­thor is the Chi­nese Con­sul Gen­eral in Toronto.

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