Japan’s apology is both right and astute
Many observers outside the region do not fully comprehend the emotional aspect of Japan’s history in East Asia. From Japan’s invasion and occupation of Manchuria and Korea to the cruel march of its soldiers everywhere from the Philippines to Myanmar and across the Malayan peninsula — for most societies in East Asia memories of the early twentieth century are a Japanese nightmare. Although Japan has apologised for its role in the past, these apologies always gave the impression of being reluctant and for that reason, insincere.
Its problem is that it has undermined those apologies in three main ways: by forcing recipient governments to negotiate over the phraseology to be used, making the apology feel reluctant and purely pragmatic; by failing to match declarations of guilt with the proper taking of responsibility, in particular through adequate compensation for Asian individuals who suffered from its atrocities; and, since 2001, by its prime minister’s visits to the Yasukuni shrine, a private entity that honours war criminals as well as Japan’s general war dead. Taken together, these failings weaken the government’s claim that the nation is officially contrite, even if small groups of right-wingers are not.[The Economist]
Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s prime minister, did well when he responded to the latest protests against Japan by issuing another apology. That move is both correct and astute. It addresses head-on the emotional core of the anti-Japan protests in China, as well as the anti-Japan sentiment in the rest of East Asia, giving no further room for an opportunisitic exploitation of history by the Chinese government.
More importantly, Koizumi’s apology is politically astute — not least because it brings the Chinese government’s own recent, equally bloody past and its intolerant politics into sharper focus. By allowing ‘people-power’ to succeed, Koizumi’s action has, intentionally or otherwise, provided encouragement and confidence to the Chinese people, whose last attempt to take to the streets ended in tragedy on Tiananmen Square in 1989. For the outside world too, it is impossible to ignore the sharp difference between the two outcomes.
Soon after his apology, Koizumi had ‘a good meeting‘ with China’s President Hu Jintao in Jakarta. Enzo over at Simon World thinks that the Chinese leaders will read this wrongly, and see Koizumi’s move as a sign of weakness. Here’s a guess: they will be proved wrong when Koizumi makes his usual visit to the Yasukuni shrine.
If Japan’s government were to launch efforts to deal with those three things, then the pluralism that, through those right-wingers, currently damages it would turn into a strength. Japan, unlike China, is a democratic and peaceful society in which disputes and even nasty debates can be handled safely. Japan poses no danger to its neighbours. Rather, another country is coming to resemble the Japan of the 1920s and 1930s: one that is developing rapidly, is hungry for energy and other natural resources, and whose nationalist politics sometimes spills worryingly into its streets. That country is China. [The Economist]
A ‘peaceful rise’? But there is no indication that the Chinese leadership has absorbed the larger lesson: that crude bullying of Hong Kong, Taiwan or Japan is not a path to greater influence, much less a “peaceful rise,” by China. It is, rather, a formula for uniting most of Asia and eventually the United States in an attempt to contain Chinese belligerence.[Washington Post]