Japan from the inside out

Japan: A new assertiveness in dealing with international criticism

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 16, 2007

A TREND SEEMS TO BE EMERGING in Japan for political figures to assertively rebut charges about Japanese wartime behavior they consider false or unfair. For example, the post directly below this one discusses a full page ad taken out in the Washington Post this week as a counterattack to the pending resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives censuring Japan over the comfort women dispute.

In addition, a group of 42 Diet members formed a committee on Wednesday to demand that the Chinese remove what the committee claims are incorrect photographs (or captions) from “anti-Japanese war museums” in that country. The membership consists of MPs from the Liberal-Democratic Party, the People’s New Party (which was formed by LDP pols kicked out of the party two years ago by former Prime Minister Koizumi for opposing his postal privatization plan), and some independents. The committee is chaired by Takeo Hiranuma, a former Minister of International Trade and Industry. He is both an independent and one of the LDP rebels bounced by Mr. Koizumi.

The group is demanding a careful examination of the exhibits at these museums and the prompt removal of photos and other information that do not accord with the facts. They are mulling a trip to Nanjing this year to visit a museum memorializing the Nanjing massacre.

Said Mr. Hiranuma, “Anti-Japanese education is being conducted at many of these museums, and we cannot permit mistaken historical views to be implanted.”

I’d link to these articles, but these reports appeared only in Japanese newspapers, and those links usually disappear in a week. I wasn’t able as of this writing to find an English-language article on the formation of this group.

How curious.

Even more curious, the AP was Johnny-on-the-spot to provide its coverage of the Chinese objections in English, and here it is in the China Daily. The report, given the laughably inapt headline, “China Slams Japanese Lawmakers Over Photographs”, focuses on a press conference conducted by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang. It reveals there are “up to 100” of these memorial exhibits throughout China.

But why go through that filter when I can give you a rough and ready translation of Mr. Qin’s statements that were put up today in Japanese on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Japan?

Question: The group consisting of Japanese Diet members has demanded the removal of “anti-Japanese” photographs from museums throughout the country commemorating the war against Japan. They claim the photographs are a falsification of history and incite anti-Japanese sentiment. Do you have any comments?

Answer: The war of aggression launched by Japanese militarism in recent times caused great suffering for the Chinese people. So as not to forget the past, and to serve as a warning for the future, our remembrance of that history is to prevent the reenactment of that tragedy and to create a wonderful future–not to maintain the hatred forever.

In regard to the issue of Sino-Japanese relations, the Chinese government has consistently maintained that history should be used as a lesson as we look to the future. There is no so-called “anti-Japanese education”. Recorded in the photographs of the past is the wretched historical truth of that time. Demanding the removal of those photographs shows nothing other than a lack of courage to break away from mistaken historical (views).

Question: July 7 this year will mark the 70th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge incident. Will China hold any commemorative activities? Will the Chinese government invite Japanese government figures to any commemorative activities?

Answer: On July 7, 1937, Japanese militarists provoked the Marco Polo Bridge incident and began a full-scale war of aggression against China, engulfing the Chinese people in great misery.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Japanese full-scale war of aggression against China. At a time such as this, we should redouble our efforts to act in accordance with the spirit of “using history as a lesson as we look to the future”, learn from history, treasure the peace that was gained through such hardships, and value our wonderful lives today. Also, we should maintain a good tone for improving and developing Sino-Japanese relations, and work together to make progress for creating goodwill among future generations in both countries. I believe there will be commemorative events to mark this anniversary.

As I’ve pointed out before, no one should be under any illusions that the Chinese are willing to let bygones be bygones, despite peaceful Japanese postwar behavior and the enormous amount of Japanese ODA bestowed on China since the restoration of diplomatic relations. Former CP Secretary-General Jiang Zemin told China’s diplomatic corps in a 1998 speech, “We should always emphasize the historical problems with Japan. We must continue to make this an issue for eternity.”

And, as other Japanese reports indicate, not only will the Chinese insist on keeping the photographs in place, they’re actually expanding the exhibit at the museum memorializing the Marco Polo Bridge incident.

Of course the Japanese aren’t fooled by any of this—they’ve seen and heard it all many times before. In one sense, this growing Japanese assertiveness in challenging anti-Japanese activities overseas is a positive development, regardless of where the truth lies. By actively confronting their antagonists, the Japanese are in effect saying, “Put up or shut up,” thereby forcing them to present hard, irrefutable evidence. (And it’s going to have to be better than that presented in the House subcommittee.)

That in turn will require those Japanese who object to the activities of their overseas antagonists to present their own evidence. The Japanese who deny the Nanjing Massacre and government coercion of comfort women will be forced to put their own cards on the table.

One would think that China, South Korea, and some elements in the U.S. Congress would welcome this new Japanese approach and actively engage them. Now that they have walked out into the open ground, it makes them a lot easier to hit as targets. If they really are massacre/comfort women deniers, what better opportunity to definitively discredit their position?

Further, if both sides deal with the issue seriously and not as diplomatic gamesmanship, something approaching the truth is bound to emerge. But of course, this also has the potential to degenerate into what the Japanese call a mizukakeron, or water-throwing argument—in other words, an exercise in futility.

At the top of this website is a link to my translation of an article written by Prof. Masao Shimojo about the Takeshima/Dokdo dispute between Japan and Korea. Prof. Shimojo suggests the only way to resolve the dispute is for historians from both countries to meet in good faith and settle the truth of the matter once and for all. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?

But Japanese and Korean historians have already held joint meetings to discuss Japan’s treatment of wartime issues in some of its textbooks. Those meetings broke down because the Koreans insisted the Japanese government pay indemnity to individuals.

Was that due to Japanese intransigence and a desire to avoid responsibility? Not at all—it was due to the Japanese insistence that the Koreans honor the treaty they signed in 1965. As part of the agreement, the Japanese paid South Korea roughly 800 million dollars in reparations. For their part, the Korean government renounced the right of its citizens to make individual claims.

The only conclusion to be drawn from the Korean example is that the Koreans are more interested in gouging the Japanese than gauging the truth.

Could Sino-Japanese discussions about wartime behavior be fruitful? Well, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman claimed that China doesn’t conduct anti-Japanese education. It might be difficult for a neutral observer to give credence to that claim after reading this account by AFP’s Benjamin Morgan of the history lessons taught in Chinese classrooms. (In addition, I have seen Japanese websites documenting what they claim are false descriptions of wartime photographs by the Chinese, and their arguments seemed to have merit.) And as Morgan points out, the Chinese are rather less than forthcoming in textbooks about their own history than the Japanese are in theirs.

Given the statements of Mr. Jiang and the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the sheer number of those wartime “museums”, and the continuing need of the Chinese government to deflect popular dissatisfaction by demonizing the Japanese—70 years after the fact—it is reasonable to conclude that the Chinese aren’t very interested in the ultimate truth, either.

Perhaps the Chinese government should do more than pay lip service to the public statements of its leaders:

“Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for history and wins over the trust of peoples in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community.”

–Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, New Delhi, April 12, 2005

9 Responses to “Japan: A new assertiveness in dealing with international criticism”

  1. Ken said

    Was Jiabao referring to China? I assume so, though there isn’t enough context there – and I don’t know enough about that speech.

    the Chinese aren’t very interested in the ultimate truth

    I’m still waiting to see any government that is interested in such. I still can’t trust a single word that comes from any of them. All of the talk here, on both sides, from any government, is mere posturing and fluffing the feathers for domestic political gain on the false bedrock that the name on the front is more important that the name on the back.

  2. bender said

    I’m puzzled at the Chinese claims I sometimes encounter on the media and the web that assert the Chinese empires have always been peaceful- no foreign campaigns, they say- now what kind of whitewash could that be? I guess the Chinese history books never teach about the foreign conquests and campaigns that almost every Chinese empires were busy engaged in. How the heck did the Han Chinese spread beyond the Yellow River plain where they originated?

  3. Aceface said

    Actually there are many interesting works done by the Chinese historians done recently.
    Either that their wrong doing in Mao days or demythfying certain events like intervention in Korean war or secretly to the wars in Indochina.The problem is the politicization of the historical debate here….

  4. ampontan said

    Aceface: You’re right, there is, but I don’t think it’s getting put into Chinese school textbooks.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think most of those books are being published overseas. And there has been rising criticism of Western scholars of China for going soft on Chinese history to avoid displeasing China’s government and having their permission to come to China revoked.

  5. Aceface said

    Well,I don’t read Chinese.I heard about this from Japanese Koreanologist saying some of the recent works by Chinese academic’s work on Korean War using declassified PRC papers are impressive(He quote them in his own papers).He also said some Chinese academics are more reliable than recent South Korean progressive academics on issues related with North Korea for student movement influenced acadmics tend to choose politics over facts,although I have no way to prove what the man told me on this.

    I’ve also read 毛沢東秘録 from Sankei.It’s Beijing bureau collected and edited the books and memoirs written by Chinese politicians and other figures on life and times of Mao to reconstruct what Chinese have come to know about the chairman,which before were top secret or taboo.Using that approach which is simply using just books sold in the ordinary Chinese bookshops(no samizdat nor unproven documents,internet rumours),they avoided the judgement dispute whether it is genuine or not like The Tienanmen papers.

    Since Sankei is known to be no panda hugger,the torn of the book is critical,but deinitely more objective than Chiang/Haliday’s “MAO”.And one must have to admit that while PRC of today is not embracing freedom of academism nor speech, it is clear that PRC is no Soviet Union before Gorbachev nor North Korea today.Facts do come out in the openin China if you have eyes and time to collect them.

  6. tomojiro said

    I read chinese. Yes, chinese historiography is changing. Since mid 1990ies they became more and more positivistic than rather ideological.

    When it comes to modern history, yes, ideology is still strong, but I am somewhat amazed recently about the range of alternative views and interpretation which are allowed to be expressed. Even critical reevaluation about the role of chinese communistic party are (to some degree) allowed.

    It is still far from democracy of course, but it is changing. The Magzine “Shokun” ran an article by Ritsumeikan proffeseur David Askew about a meeting between Japanese historians and Chinese historians, and the Chinese historians admitted that the Chinese research about Nanjing massacre were too much ideological.

    And I think there was a news about the change of histoy books in Shanghai schools this year.

  7. ampontan said

    Aceface: Thanks for recommending those books about Mao.

  8. […] Japan: A new assertiveness in dealing with international criticism « AMPONTAN […]

  9. […] have noticed that the controversy isn’t over. China is still angry (scroll down) and Japan isn’t inclined to empathy […]

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