Japan's East Asia Problem:
A Sixtieth Anniversary Perspective on the Postwar
by Yoichi FUNABASHI
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the end of
World War II. Three-quarters of Japan's population was born after
the war. Despite the passage of time, Japan's postwar problems continue.
Public opinion is split over Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's
visits to Yasukuni Shrine. China and South Korea are also unhappy
about the visits.
To remember the tragedy of the war and the importance of peace,
events to mourn the war dead are planned across the world this year.
At the Japan-China summit on the occasion of the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) forum in November, Chinese President Hu Jintao
said: ``We cannot avoid history. I want (Japan) to deal with the
problem properly. In particular, 2005 is a sensitive year that marks
the 60th anniversary of anti-fascist victory.''
The ``sensitive'' part mainly has to do with Japan.
The Memorial Museum of Chinese People's Anti-Japanese War in Beijing's
Lugouqiao (Marco Polo Bridge) is currently under renovation. According
to the Nov. 21 edition of Beijing Daily, the renovation work is
aimed at ``fully reflecting the great process of the anti-Japanese
war; exposing crimes of Japanese imperialism such as the massacre
of the Chinese people and colonial rule; and creating space to fully
exhibit the important role China played and the great sacrifice
it made in the anti-fascist war.''
To display China's ``role and sacrifice,'' some officials of the
Chinese Communist Party and the government are proposing to host
an international ceremony this year. ``Up to now, such commemorative
events have been held only domestically,'' a senior official of
the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. ``But from now on, there is talk
to hold them internationally. The plan is part of such an idea but
it hasn't been decided yet.''
Perhaps the proposed event was also inspired by Russia's plans to
host a May celebration to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the
victory against Nazi Germany. Russia is planning the occasion so
that it would coincide with celebrations for the 60th anniversary
of the establishment of the United Nations. And in November, the
U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution to declare May 8 and
9 in 2005, ``Remembrance and Reconciliation Days.''
However, a number of Central and Eastern European countries that
suffered under Soviet aggression have opposed Russia's plan, saying,
``The message is good but the messenger is not.''
Meanwhile the United States, Britain and France have
agreed to attend. Russia also invited Germany. It has agreed to
send its chancellor to the celebration.
The Putin administration wants to use the historical symbol of having
won World War II as a member of the Allied Forces along with the
United States to elevate itself. To Russia, which lost its status
as a superpower, the victory is both an important psychological
compensation and a diplomatic asset.
Invaluable diplomatic asset
China's case is similar in this regard. (Thekla's
comment: Don't try to confuse readers by mixing Russia and China
up. Before or during WWII, China did not like the aggressive Soviet
Union but was a country being suffered under imperialism of western
countries.) It sees the 60th anniversary of the end of the
war as an invaluable ``diplomatic asset'' for maintaining the legitimacy
of its position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council
for having defeated Japan, maintaining U.S.-China relations and
applying pressure to Japan.
(Thekla's comment: Who is challenging China's
legitimacy of its position as a permanent member of the UN Security
Council? Why it needs to use the 60th anniversary of the end of
the war as an diplomatic asset to maintaining its position. I only
see that Japan is now trying its every means to bid for a permanent
seat at the UN Security Council. But without true repentance of
its war of aggression and war crimes committed, Japan will never
be trusted by the people of its victimized countries!)
Opportunities to make good use of it ``come around several times
a year on July 7, Aug. 15, Sept. 2, Sept. 18 and Dec. 13,'' a researcher
of a Chinese think tank said. The dates refer to the Marco Polo
Bridge Incident (1937), Japan's defeat (1945), Japan's signing of
the official instrument of surrender on board the USS Missouri (1945),
the Mukden (Manchurian) Incident (1931) and the Nanking massacre
(Thekla's comment: What's wrong of making
good use of these important historical dates to remind the Chinese
people that they should stand up and together build a strong nation
that can defend themselves, and not to repeat the same history of
being invaded and having millions of people being slaughtered?)
``Each time Prime Minister Koizumi visits Yasukuni Shrine, China
can use them to retaliate,'' the researcher said. If Japan and China
enter such diplomatic psychological warfare, 2005 could turn into
a gloomy year.
(Thekla's comment: The author is right , 2005
will definitely turn into a gloomy year if Koizumi and its government
still continue to turn their blind eyes to the demand of facing
Japan's dark chapter of history squarely - visiting Yasukuni shrine
which is the symbol of militarism is one of the obvious proofs for
Japan's no repentance for its invasion to other countries and war
Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea will be celebrating the 40th anniversary
of the normalization of diplomatic ties. The two governments designated
2005 as Japan-South Korea Friendship Year and are planning various
events. The two countries signed the Japan-South Korea Basic Treaty
in 1965. In lieu of reparations, Japan provided economic assistance
to South Korea. While Japanese aid contributed to South Korea's
economic advancement, many problems were left unsettled, including
apology and compensation to former ``comfort women'' who were forced
to have sex with Japanese soldiers.
Recently, the South Korean parliament adopted a resolution to seek
``the establishment of a history museum to recover the honor and
human rights of comfort women.'' At the same time, voices calling
for the disclosure of diplomatic documents to clarify the policy-making
process for the signing of the basic treaty are growing stronger
in South Korea. This is part of the movement to ``settle'' history
against ``pro-Japanese elements'' under the initiative of the Roh
Moo Hyun administration.
In a 2004 speech to mark Independence Day, Roh said: ``Even now,
pro-Japanese vestiges have not been cleared nor has the truth of
history been clarified. We must correct distorted history.'' For
that, South Korea established a law to examine history closely.
The ``pro-Japanese school'' is said to have emerged on the Korean
Peninsula in the five years from the signing of the Second Japan-Korea
Agreement in 1905, by which Japan made Korea a protectorate following
the Russo-Japanese War before finally annexing the peninsula.
This year also happens to be the 110th anniversary of the assassination
of Queen Min and the centennial of the signing of the Second Japan-Korea
Agreement. ``After liberation, the Rhee Syngman administration tried
to investigate the pro-Japanese school but couldn't. Soon the Cold
War began and the Korean War broke out. Eventually, an anti-Communist
authoritarian regime took root,'' said Kang Chang Il, a lawmaker
of the ruling Open Uri Party.
It cannot be denied that the Cold War distorted history. However,
even after the Cold War, the world is not free from attempts to
(Thekla's comment: Be more specific, Japanese
education department is well-known for distorting its war time history
by screening out from textbooks the mentioning of the war crimes
committed by the Japanese imperial army. Prof. Saburo Ienaga's lawsuit
against the Japanese government is the classic example for their
While China is a communist dictatorship, its economy and media are
rapidly becoming market-oriented. With the end of the Cold War,
socialism collapsed and China needed a new ideology to justify the
maintenance of communist leadership. Patriotism and ``anti-Japanese''
nationalism form the core of the ensuing ideology.
(Thekla's comment: Firstly, I doubt the Chinese
government has intention to develop this so-call "anti-Japanese"
ideology. As a matter of fact, I find in most related museums, there
is not sufficient mention about Japan's denial of the atrocities
committed nor about the victims' claims being mostly thrown out
by the Japanese courts, instead, the conclusion always focus on
the importance of friendly Sino-Japanese relationship. Secondly,
if Japan had truly repented for its invasion and fulfilled its post-war
responsibility, how can the so-called "anti-Japanese"
ideology be formed? Thirdly, there is truly distrust toward Japan
or even so-called "anti-Japanese" sentiment among Chinese
people. The reason is that almost all families are adversely impacted
by this war of aggression 60 years ago. Even we may not be able
to learn all the details of this chapter of history in school, the
stories are still passed on from our parents and grandparents. When
the Japanese government intentionally makes use of the a-bombs to
protrait themselves as victim rather than to admit the fact that
they were aggressor and perpertrator, and at the same time still
denies the atrocities committed, can Chinese people and other Asian
people have trust in Japan?)
Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin ordered diplomatic authorities
not to needlessly bow to Japan but to deal with it with fortitude.
During the Jiang Zemin era, anti-Japanese monuments called ``patriotism
educational bases'' were built across China.
(Thekla's comment: What's wrong with patriotism?
Ultra-nationalism like what the Yasukuni Shrine promotes is horrible.
That's also why China and Korea are so resentful to Koizum's visit
to the Shrine!)
Furthermore, with the advancement of the market economy, the inclination
to view history by class waned. The premise that ``Japanese advocates
of militarism are the aggressor and the Japanese people are their
victims'' became vague. Instead, an attitude to lump all Japanese
as one emerged as can be seen in the way Jiang Zemin told South
Korean President Kim Dae Jung that ``Japan is not trustworthy.''
(Thekla's comment: Of course, there are some
progress and peace-loving people in Japan. But don't say that Japanese
people are totally free from responsibility. Doesn't Japan claim
itself a democratic country? Why those politicians like Koizumi
and Ishihara are elected? Why majority of the Japanese people do
not urge their government to face squarely with its war responsibility?)
Meanwhile, the Korean Peninsula remains divided. North Korea is
in a critical condition and appears ready to play a dangerous game
by using its nuclear weapons program as a card to maintain its regime.
In South Korea, a pro-North nationalistic sentiment backed by a
sort of social revolutionary grudge is on the rise.
As for criticism of ``pro-Japanese elements,'' in order to soften
the impression that it is aimed at labeling them as ``the bad guy,''
there is a move to replace the term ``pro-Japanese'' with ``subordination
to Japan,'' according to Kang. Lawmaker Park Jin of the opposition
Hannara Party said: ``The Roh administration says condemning the
pro-Japanese school is a domestic problem and has no impact on Japan-South
Korea relations. But that's not true. The movement will spread to
attacks on pro-American elements after the war and eventually affect
U.S. relations,'' he warned.
As Japan suffered an economic recession during the 1990s-also known
as ``the lost decade''-China emerged as a regional power while North
Korea test-fired a Taepodong missile over Japan. The abduction problem
also encouraged the Japanese to turn to nationalism to vent their
(Thekla's comment: How convenient it is to
use the abduction problem as an excuse for the Japanese politicans
to fan the Japanese to turn to nationalism so as to avoid dealing
the blame for "the lost decade" problems!)
The trauma of the Persian Gulf War and Japan's desire to become
``a normal country'' intermingled. Despite its desire to achieve
this status, China is standing in the way.
(Thekla's comment: What is "a normal
country"? To further expand Japan's military might? Can the
author explain why Japan being a country should only have a self-defence
force, is having the 3rd if not the 2nd military expenditure around
the world? By the way, how China is standing in the way?)
Japan wants to express its gratitude to the people who gave their
lives to the country, but China is preventing it from doing so.
Such feelings of resentment and frustration are spreading.
(Thekla's comment: This is to say, Germany
should consider the Nazi soliders gave their lives to the country.
Go ask if western countries will allow Germany express its gratitude
to the Nazi soldiers!)
It appears that history, which used to play a supporting role, has
become the leading player on the East Asian international political
scene where the past is more unpredictable than the future. Japan's
place in the world/60th anniversary of the end of World War II (2)/Yoichi
Funabashi:War reflection can form new identity
What should we do to overcome the history problem, even if by a
little, on the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II? As far
as Japan is concerned, it should formulate policies and take concrete
measures to advance the following initiatives:
* Re-establish the statement made by the prime minister on the 50th
anniversary of the end of the war as Japan's fundamental recognition
of the past. In 1995, the government released Prime Minister Tomiichi
Murayama's statement. It may still be inadequate but it admitted
Japan's war responsibility and expressed the feeling of remorse
more frankly than any other official statement that had been made
public up to that time. However, the statement is not well-known
throughout Asia and the rest of the world.
Last summer, when then Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi met with
her Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing, Kawaguchi referred to the
``Murayama statement.'' In response to Li's request, Kawaguchi showed
him the statement written in kanji. However, according to a senior
Japanese government official who was there, ``It did not seem to
ring a bell (with Li). It is my guess that he didn't know about
Li is not the only one. In fact, it is questionable how many Japanese
actually know about it. Why? One reason is that it is more commonly
known as the ``Murayama statement'' and not ``the prime minister's
statement.'' The appellation almost suggests that it was an ``irregular''
comment made during the coalition government led by Murayama.
(Thekla's comment: Murayama's apology statement
was only a personal one. His feelings were obviously not shared
by the majority of his colleagues in the Japanese government. He
failed to make a formal and official apology in the so-called No
War Resolution. Only 26% of the diet members supported the Resolution
and 47% were against it. Furthermore, the ex-education minister
Seisuke Okuno managed to organize a national campaign and collected
4.5 million signatures against the Resolution. )
* Formulate East Asian regionalism and regional cooperation.
Never before have relations among East Asian countries,
including economic integration, been as close as now. For Japan,
this is an ideal opportunity to build a relationship of trust and
reconciliation with Asia. Regional cooperation must not be stalled
because of the history problem. When we think about the past, Japan's
responsibility is twice as grave in this regard. As a U.S. ally,
can Japan make an East Asian community compatible with the Japan-U.S.
alliance and have it play the role of a ballast for peace and stability
to take root in the region? This is none other than a 100-year national
plan for Japan.
( Thekla's comment: Where can we see the sincerity
of building a relationship of trust and reconciliation with Asia
from Japan? From their prime minister continuing paying tribute
to their war criminals in Yasukuni Shrine? From the new wave of
distortion of history in Japan's textbooks? From Japan's high officials'
repeated denials of Nanking Massacre and other atrocities? From
the rejection of apology and compensations to victims by the Japan
* Share Japan's postwar experiences as well as the assets and resources
it built in the process as a major civilian power for world peace
and stability and economic advancement.
The Japan-South Korea reconciliation process that Prime Minister
Keizo Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung started in
1998 was made possible only because the president commended Japan's
peace Constitution and postwar experiences such as its provision
of aid to developing countries.
For Japan, ``looking to the future'' means passing down the essence
of its postwar experience of living together with international
society to posterity and advancing it.
Incidentally, Indonesia will host a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary
of the Bandung Conference this year. Leaders of nearly 100 Asian
and African nations are expected to come together. Prime Minister
Koizumi is also expected to attend. He should take advantage of
the occasion to show Japan's reflection on the war and the lessons
it learned from it. He should also present Japan's new role and
responsibility in the United Nations and show what it can do to
help developing nations in nation building and personnel training,
conflict prevention and maintenance of peace. He should also propose
a notion to promote new solidarity for Asia and Africa.
( Thekla's comment: Play the trick of "we
got the a-bomb, we are the victim" again? Japan sent troops
to Iraq. This is already contradictory to Article 9 of their so-called
peace constitution. And of course, the Koizumi government is so
eager to change the consititution to suit their wish of "normalizing
* Contemplate the history problem while considering long-term national
After the Chinese president requested the prime minister to refrain
from visiting Yasukuni Shrine, he responded by saying, ``So long
as China tells me not to go, there is no option not to go.'' But
such a reaction is too passive and accommodating.
The lessons from history should help us to better our lives and
become more astute.
Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone made an official visit to
Yasukuni Shrine in 1985 on the occasion of the 40th anniversary
of the end of the war. That time, too, Japan-China relations became
strained, causing Nakasone to stop his shrine visits. Nakasone explained
to the Diet that he stopped for Japan's ``national interests.''
Politicians are urged to take to heart that a nation's leader is
the nation's ``diplomat in-chief.''
(Thekla's comment: The essence of the problem
are why the war criminals are enshrined and why these Japanese prime
ministers and other politicians like to visit the shrine? The only
answer is those wars of aggression were justified because they were
for the good of Japan. This is the mentality of Koizumi and the
right-wingers of Japan.)
* ``What kind of a country should Japan be?''
In the same Diet explanation, Nakasone said, ``Japan also has the
proper ability to reflect on itself to adapt to democracy'' and
stressed ``the need to internationally demonstrate'' this. How sincerely
can Japan reflect on its failures and mistakes, turn it into momentum
for a fresh start and reflect it in the country's future national
image and vision?
The process itself creates Japan's identity. In other words, what
kind of a country does Japan want to make itself and how does it
want to be remembered in history? This is a problem in the realm
Let us mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the war with wide,
(Thekla's comment: I also hope that the wishful
thinking of this author will come true but I see no signs of that
will happen during the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII.)
* * *
Yoichi Funabash is an Asahi Shimbun senior staff writer and foreign
This two part article commemorating the 60th anniversary of the
end of World War II appeared in the International Herald Tribune/Asahi
Shimbun on January 4 and 5, 2005.
The inserted comments in blue are from our ALPHA
Chairman Thekla Lit.