The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitic­s -

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 [email protected] com and @Yu_Miles.

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