US pres­i­dent’s miss­ing mes­sage in Ja­pan

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

Dur­ing his three-day visit to Ja­pan from April 23 to 25, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama seems to be fo­cus­ing on the US-Ja­pan se­cu­rity al­liance, the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship ne­go­ti­a­tions and the tri­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion with Ja­pan and South Korea. What has been miss­ing is him rais­ing a voice of con­cern over Ja­panese PrimeMin­is­ter Shinzo Abe’s views onWorldWar II his­tory.

Wash­ing­ton ex­pressed its dis­ap­point­ment over Abe’s visit to the Ya­sukuni Shrine on De­cem­ber 26, de­scrib­ing the ac­tion as “ex­ac­er­bat­ing ten­sions with Ja­pan’s neigh­bors”. And US me­dia, such as The Wash­ing­ton Post and TheNew York Times, have also re­peat­edly blasted Abe’s his­tor­i­cal views.

The Ya­sukuni Shrine hon­ors 14 Class-A war crim­i­nals from WWII and has long been re­garded as a sym­bol of Ja­panese mil­i­tarism, which in­flicted huge suf­fer­ing on coun­tries such as China, the Repub­lic of Korea and the Demo­cratic People’s Repub­lic of Korea, the Philip­pines and sev­eral other Asian na­tions.

To many in these coun­tries, Abe’s homage to the shrine is like Ger­man govern­ment lead­ers vis­it­ing a me­mo­rial to AdolfHitler and deny­ing theHolo­caust, which, of course, they have never done.

Obama’s ar­rival in Ja­pan came just a day af­ter a Ja­panese cab­i­net min­is­ter and some 150 law­mak­ers vis­ited the shrine and two days af­ter Abe made an of­fer­ing to the shrine.

Whether Obama will pub­licly voice his con­cern and ob­jec­tion to such acts dur­ing his first trip to Ja­pan as US pres­i­dent, or in­stead re­main silent in or­der to bet­ter ad­vance his other agenda with Ja­pan, such as the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship talks and the US-Ja­pan se­cu­rity al­liance, is be­ing closely watched.

Stay­ing silent is some­thing that Obama should not do be­cause it is a mat­ter of right and wrong, jus­tice and in­jus­tice.

The US fought along­side the Chi­nese against Ja­panese fas­cists dur­ing WWII, so con­don­ing a white­wash of Ja­pan’s war atroc­i­ties would be a hu­mil­i­a­tion to those Chi­nese and Amer­i­cans who sac­ri­ficed their lives.

Obama’s fail­ure to raise the is­sue will also fur­ther anger South Korea, which is also at odds with Ja­pan over his­tor­i­cal is­sues. Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye has re­peat­edly warned Ja­pan to stop deny­ing the past. The huge set­back in re­la­tions be­tween Ja­pan and South Korea caused by the row over Ja­pan’s de­nial of his­tor­i­cal truths has weak­ened the so-called US-Ja­pan-South Korea tri­lat­eral al­liance, which some South Korean for­eign pol­icy ex­perts now be­lieve is non-ex­is­tent.

Deny­ing his­tory has also been fuel­ing the ten­sions over the Diaoyu Is­lands in the East China Sea. The Ja­panese govern­ment has con­tin­ued to deny that there is a dis­pute over the sovereignty of the mar­itime ter­ri­tory. It has cer­tainly changed the sta­tus quo there by na­tion­al­iz­ing the is­lands in late 2012, some­thing that the US failed to con­demn.

Obama should know that Abe’s right-wing his­tor­i­cal views are not just re­flected in his trib­ute to the Ya­sukuni Shrine, he has also ques­tioned whether Ja­pan’s mil­i­tary in­va­sions should be de­fined as ag­gres­sion and whether the “com­fort women” – women used as sex slaves by the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Army – were co­erced.

Abe also in­fu­ri­ated many of Ja­pan’s neigh­bor­ing coun­tries last year when he posed for a photo, giv­ing a thumbs up, in the cock­pit of a mil­i­tary train­ing jet with the num­ber “731”, the name of a no­to­ri­ous covert bi­o­log­i­cal and chemical weapons re­search team of Im­pe­rial Ja­panese Army that ex­per­i­mented on Chi­nese, Korean and Soviet pris­on­ers dur­ing WWII in North­east China.

Obama will be send­ing a wrong mes­sage to the world and to Ja­pan’s neigh­bors, in par­tic­u­lar China and the two Koreas, if he fails to warn his Ja­panese host against such acts. And that will be costly for the US in terms of hold­ing the moral high ground or if the US seeks to be an hon­est and cred­i­ble bro­ker and even a leader in the re­gion.

Obama should not ap­pease such dan­ger­ous his­tor­i­cal views in or­der to make gains on other fronts. The au­thor is deputy edi­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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