Ja­pan and its vic­tims must face the past and move on

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe failed to grasp the net­tle when he de­liv­ered a muchtouted ad­dress on the 70th an­niver­sary of his na­tion’s sur­ren­der at the end of World War II.

As Abe pointed out, more than 80 per­cent of to­day’s Ja­panese were born af­ter the war and, as time goes on, it will be 100 per­cent. It is in­deed time to move on.

How­ever, ideally, mov­ing on should come af­ter a sense of clo­sure. Un­for­tu­nately, Abe’s speech does not suc­ceed in pro­vid­ing this. In­stead, in some ways, it re­opens old ar­gu­ments, im­ply­ing that Ja­pan was not re­ally re­spon­si­ble for its role in the con­flict.

In try­ing to ex­plain why Ja­pan did what it did in the 1930s and 1940s, Abe de­scribed the im­pact on Ja­pan of the Great De­pres­sion and said that the Ja­panese econ­omy suf­fered a ma­jor blow as a re­sult of eco­nomic blocs launched by Western coun­tries and their colonies. In this re­spect, Abe’s speech is rem­i­nis­cent of the nar­ra­tive pro­vided by the Yushukan war mu­seum ad­ja­cent to the Ya­sukuni Shrine, which seeks to jus­tify Ja­pan’s role in the war.

Added to this is the fail­ure to tackle head on the “com­fort women” is­sue, which has be­come a stain on Ja­pan’s rep­u­ta­tion around the world and a huge ob­sta­cle to re­pair­ing re­la­tions with South Korea whose pres­i­dent, Park Geun-hye, has called Abe’s speech “want­ing.”

China, too, is clearly dis­sat­is­fied with its state media call­ing the speech “in­sin­cere.” Abe seemed to at­tempt to down­play China. In ex­press­ing “deep re­morse and heart­felt apol­ogy,” he listed “South­east Asian coun­tries, such as In­done­sia and the Philip­pines, and Tai­wan, the Re­pub­lic of Korea and China, among oth­ers,” putting China last, even though China suf­fered more ca­su­al­ties than any other coun­try as a re­sult of Ja­panese ag­gres­sion.

Within Ja­pan, Tomi­ichi Mu­rayama, the so­cial­ist who, dur­ing his one year as prime min­is­ter is­sued the “Mu­rayama State­ment” on the 50th an­niver­sary of the end of World War II ex­press­ing “deep re­morse” for Ja­panese colo­nial­ism and ag­gres­sion, also crit­i­cized Abe’s speech for what he con­sid­ered to be its vague­ness.

How­ever, the Abe state­ment was very much in line with that is­sued by then Prime Min­is­ter Ju­nichiro Koizumi in 2005 to mark the 60th an­niver­sary of the war’s end. Koi- zumi, like Abe, be­longed to the con­ser­va­tive Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party and, dur­ing his five years in of­fice, vis­ited the con­tro­ver­sial Ya­sukuni Shrine each year.

In fact, there is lit­tle point for Ja­panese lead­ers to is­sue state­ments of re­morse ev­ery 10 years es­pe­cially since, be­fore long, all the peo­ple of Ja­pan would have been born af­ter the war. Those peo­ple are not re­spon­si­ble for the war and should not be ex­pected to apol­o­gize for it.

China’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion tra­di­tion­ally has been that the Ja­panese peo­ple, too, were vic­tims of the war, with only a “small mi­nor­ity of mil­i­tarists” be­ing re­spon­si­ble. Thus, there is un­likely to be any in­sis­tence on new apolo­gies from peo­ple who weren’t even born dur­ing the war.

How­ever, this doesn’t mean that Ja­panese should not con­front their history. In fact, be­ing able to face history is cru­cial to Ja­pan’s abil­ity to cope with the present and the fu­ture, but this is very dif­fer­ent from is­su­ing ever more apolo­gies. In fact, Abe rec­og­nizes this and as­serted in his speech: “We Ja­panese, across gen­er­a­tions, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to in­herit the past, in all hum­ble­ness, and pass it on to the fu­ture.”

The re­cent de­ci­sion by the Ja­panese com­pany Mit­subishi Ma­te­ri­als to apol­o­gize to Amer­i­can pris­on­ers of war and to pay com­pen­sa­tion to thou­sands of Chi­nese who were forced to la­bor for the com­pany dur­ing the war is def­i­nitely a step in the right di­rec­tion.

With 70 years hav­ing elapsed, the time has come for all sides con­cerned to move into the 21st cen­tury rather than to al­low them­selves to be trapped in the 1930s and 1940s in a time warp.

Ja­pan must face the past and move on. But for­mer vic­tims, too, must move on. Such coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly China, must not use history to ratchet up pres­sure on Ja­pan to gain ad­van­tage on cur­rent is­sues.

Hong Kong is an ex­am­ple of not for­get­ting the past while mov­ing into the fu­ture. The for­mer Bri­tish colony was in­vaded and oc­cu­pied by Ja­pan for three years and eight months. To­day, how­ever, Hong Kong’s peo­ple are not hos­tile to Ja­pan. On the con­trary, the tiny re­gion is the world’s largest im­porter of Ja­panese food and half a mil­lion of its 7 mil­lion peo­ple visit Ja­pan ev­ery year. Frank.ching@gmail.com Twit­ter: @FrankChing1

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