THE POLITICS OF JULY 7
Monday marked the 77th anniversary of the beginning of all-out war between China and Japan, and Chinese leaders spared no effort to use the occasion to carry out a choreographed anti-Japan propaganda campaign.
The campaign backfired, however, producing profound embarrassments.
The entire Chinese Communist Party leadership took part in several elaborate commemorative events that sought to cast today’s Japan in the same light as Tokyo’s militarist dictatorship of seven decades ago.
The centerpiece was a speech by Supreme Leader Xi Jinping that criticized Japan’s leaders for allegedly trying to revive its fascist past and imperial glory.
State-run Xinhua news agency called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe “the most dangerous man in Asia.” The Party organ People’s Daily said China would “resolutely guard the victorious achievements of world anti-fascist war from being taken away [by Mr. Abe],” despite the fact that few, if any, in the region take China’s rhetoric seriously in seeking to portray Japan as endeavoring to revive its fascist past.
While China marinated in anti-Japan sentiment and propaganda, Mr. Abe was in Australia for a two-day visit. In a speech to Australia’s parliament, he addressed China’s propaganda and denied that Japan is worming its way toward imperialism.
“We will never let the horrors of the past century’s history repeat themselves,” Mr. Abe said, offering another round of his prior statements on Japan’s wartime deeds. “May I most humbly speak for Japan and on behalf of the Japanese people here in sending my most sincere condolences towards many souls who lost their lives.”
To coordinate its anti-Japan campaign, Beijing timed the July 7 anniversary with invitations to two prominent figures as part of a plan to create some degree of a united front against Japan. One was a senior Taiwanese ruling Kuomintang Party (KMT) military leader; the second was German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the plan backfired badly. Gen. Hao Bocun, 95, a veteran of China’s fight against Japan in World War II and a former Taiwan defense minister, was supposed to echo Beijing’s antiJapan rhetoric to show China-Taiwan unity.
Instead, the Taiwanese general excoriated China’s communist government — in front of Chinese officials in Beijing — for distorting wartime history by denying that KMT Nationalists’ Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek led the war efforts against Japan, not Mao Zedong’s Communist forces, as Chinese propaganda has maintained. He questioned why Chinese authorities hid the historical evidence, to which no answers were offered by stunned officials.
Ms. Merkel was invited to China in hopes she might provide remarks about how Germany has successfully and sincerely dealt with its fascist past, in what Beijing hoped would be a sharp contrast to Japan.
But Ms. Merkel was adroit in avoiding the trap. On the anniversary day, she got herself stuck in faraway Sichuan province to avoid the propaganda fanfare in Beijing. The German leader only appeared in Beijing the next day to give a speech at Tsinghua University, where the inevitable question came: How does she view the different ways in which Germany and Japan have handled their fascist pasts?
Ms. Merkel refused to name Japan and simply repeated essentially what her friend Mr. Abe had said in Australia a day earlier, that Germany also had thought long and hard about the war and decided to not repeat history, ever.
There is irony here: While China holds Germany as exemplary in dealing with its wartime past, Germany has the world’s highest percentage of people who view China negatively.
A BBC survey found that more than 76 percent of Germans, the highest rate among 24 countries polled, view China as exerting a mainly negative impact on the world. China also was viewed negatively by 73 percent of those polled in Japan, followed by France (68 percent), the U.S. (66 percent), Canada (64 percent), Spain (59 percent) and South Korea (56 percent).
Even many inside China do not adhere to Beijing’s official anti-Japan propaganda. A well-known Chinese stage actress wrote in her Twitter-like microblog Weibo account that she never harbors good feelings toward the Japanese for two reasons: 1. Japan’s invasion led to the Nationalists’ defeat and the communists’ victory, and 2. Japan was the first to break trade sanctions against China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, which incidentally is on a long list of topics forbidden to mention inside China — topics that touch on the history of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule, the bloodiest of all 20th century histories.
Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail. com and @Yu_Miles.