The Dark Side of Japan

Tom Plate – UCLA Media Center

I have been getting some “hate e-mail” lately from readers of Chinese ethnicity. Basically, they are furious with my columns for strongly supporting permanent UN Security Council membership for Japan. They think that Japan is no good and cannot be trusted. There seems to be no reasoning with them.
But when all reason and civilised discourse are abandoned, serious danger looms. Fortunately, the elders of both China and Japan have come to their senses and turned to their wise diplomats to cool things off.
This is why Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and his Japanese counterpart, Nobutaka Machimura, are to be warmly congratulated for taking steps to move their countries away from further corrosive tension.
So is Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi: in Jakarta recently, at a major international conference, he apologised sincerely and effusively for his country’s past history of aggression and colonialism.
That very public apology should mark the beginning of the end of it – but it will not. I, for one, do not doubt his sincerity. But there are those who will not believe Japan’s apologies, no matter how often or how very sincerely they are uttered.
One reason is that some people simply do not like and do not trust the Japanese. But there is another reason for this stereotype: some Japanese individuals say things in public that tend to only fuel people’s fears and make them think the very worst about Japan, one of the world’s great cultures.
Take Shintaro Ishihara, the governor of Tokyo, one of Japan’s most popular politicians (alas), and the co-author of the infamous, angry book, A Japan That Can Say No.
In an exclusive article distributed by the Los Angeles-based Global Viewpoint, Mr Ishihara attacks China from almost every conceivable angle. And given the timing – in the heat of the worst political atmospherics in East Asia in recent memory – his gratuitous attack is deeply regrettable.
The governor virtually dismisses all Beijing’s arguable claims of sovereignty, whether over Taiwan, Tibet or disputed islands, as conclusive evidence of its expansionist ambitions. He condemns China for lacking the very basics of “civil society” and explains away the country’s fantastic economic growth as fuelled solely by exploitation and designed entirely to feed its aggressive-minded military expansion.
Of course, China has its problems, such as lopsided wealth distribution, a too-tenacious Communist Party and a cruel and ham-fisted system of stifling dissent. But Mr Ishihara, while entitled to his views, goes too far and paints Beijing as endlessly malevolent.
The truth is that if an objective opinion poll was taken of people’s views in Asia, the results would probably suggest that more people worry about military aggression originating from Japan at some point, rather than China. Not Mr Ishihara. He said: “Economic growth serves to maintain Beijing’s military modernisation. China’s economic rise also acts to justify the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party, which has achieved success through its hegemonic stance towards the rest of Asia…”
He then asks: “Can we really allow China, an outright defiant nation with massive political energy, to blatantly pursue its economic interests in the Asian region?” To which, I might ask Mr Ishihara: Well, what do you plan to do about it?
Actually, I do not think I will ask that question. I think I know his answer. And it would be the answer that many people in Asia would most fear about Japan.
Tom Plate, a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, is the founder of the Asia-Pacific Media Network.
Distributed by the UCLA Media Centre

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