I've gotten sort of exhausted by the issue of China's grievances with Japan in recent days. The level of emotion generally runs high in any online discussions of this topic, and unfortunately the same arguments tend to get repeated...and rehashed...and reiterated...
But this article in the UK Guardian gives some much-needed context to those images of angry Chinese students throwing bottles at the Japanese Consulate and smashing the windows of Japanese restaurants. And any involvement of the Chinese government in the protests and in the manipulation of anti-Japanese sentiments does not invalidate the very real basis for these emotions.
Writes the Guardian's Tokyo correspondent Martin Jacques:
After centuries of isolation, Japan's rapid industrialisation after 1867 catapulted the country into the ranks of the advanced world and left its neighbours trailing in its wake. This disparity served to further distance Japan from Asia and fuelled the kind of supremacist attitudes which saw Japan colonise Korea and Taiwan, north-east China and then briefly, during the second world war, most of south-east Asia, often with considerable barbarity.I read a post yesterday on East Asia Blog from a Japanese poster, who said that the Class A war criminals in the shrine were only "war criminals" because of the Allies' post-war kangaroo court. I'm not knowledgable enough about those trials to fully judge that statement, and this is just one Japanese opinion, but it strikes me as evidence of the lack of national soul searching in Japan about its role in WW2 that this article cites.
After Japan's defeat in the war, it grudgingly admitted partial responsibility for its actions but it never went through anything like the kind of cathartic process that was to transform Germany. Guilt was confined to an ambiguous and cryptic form of words, plus an economic largesse towards its Asian neighbours, China included. For Japan, money was easier and less costly than coming to terms with its past. The United States, which governed Japan for a brief period after the war and which has remained its protector and ally ever since, made little or no attempt to persuade Japan to do more; its interests lay in resisting communism in China, Korea and Vietnam, in which it saw Japan as a valuable ally. Not surprisingly, Japan's reluctant expressions of remorse, repeated again yesterday by prime minister Junichiro Koizumi, have never measured up to the profound sense of grievance felt by its neighbours, especially China and South Korea. As a consequence, the issue has festered and the wounds remain; unlike in Europe, there has been no closure. It is one of the reasons why Japan has never been able to exercise the kind of regional influence that its status as an economic giant would imply.
Indeed, Japan has remained peculiarly aloof from its own continent. In many respects, it likes to consider itself part of the west. But as east Asia has been economically transformed over the past 30 years, that mindset has become increasingly unsustainable. East Asia is no longer its impoverished backyard, but a vibrant and increasingly powerful region that demands respect. Japan's ostrich-like attitude towards its own past has left it with feet of clay. It seems uncomprehending towards the huge resentments that animate not only the Chinese, but also the Koreans, Filipinos and many others. Indeed, it appears almost nonplussed by the latest protests, a sentiment reflected in Koizumi's statement yesterday, which merely represented a repetition of previous utterances. It would not be difficult - in theory at least - for Japan to disarm its critics by a sincere display of remorse, by a willingness to engage in open bilateral investigations of the past, in a heartfelt rather than grudging mea culpa. If anything, though, it is moving in the opposite direction, becoming more inflexible and less willing to demonstrate contrition.
Well, I'm sure there isn't a country in the world that couldn't do with more soul searching about its own history, mine most certainly included (especially right about now). But I think that comparing Japan and Germany on how this issue was handled is certainly instructive. I'm sure there are still residual worries about a strong Germany in a united Europe, but they are pretty residual at this point. Germany's reunification provoked minimal fear among its neighbors, for example. Ask Japan's neighbors how they feel about a remilitarized Japan, and I imagine you'd get a vastly different response. Indeed, Jacques, writes, "in the present Sino-Japanese spat, it is difficult to think of a single country - with the possible ambiguous exception of Taiwan - which sides with Japan. South Korea's sentiments, for obvious reasons, lie overwhelmingly with China. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore have all expressed sympathy with Chinese sentiments. Japan has only itself to blame: it is the author of its own estrangement and it shows no sign of being willing to do anything about it."
And if China is to become the dominent power in Asia, in Japan's place, how will China be regarded by its neighbors?
Of course, it will all depend on how China manages its "peaceful rise." But that is a topic for another post...