Copyright The International Herald Tribune
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
HONG KONG There could scarcely be a sharper contrast than between the bonhomie displayed by China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, on his current tour of South Asia and China’s behavior towards its North Asian neighbor, Japan. The anti-Japanese demonstrations during the weekend, and some only slightly less nationalistic outbursts in South Korea, are not just forewarnings of future tensions in the region. They have implications for global governance and the United Nations system – in which India, in particular, would like to play a larger role.
The demonstrations in China may have got out of hand, but there is no doubt that they were initiated with the connivance of the authorities. While the old issue of Japanese school textbook versions of Japan’s occupation of China was one pretext, the main trigger was Japan’s push to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
It is always a worrying sign when students vent their wrath against foreigners rather than campaigning against injustices at home – and when governments drum up nationalist sentiments to divert attention from their own failings. The demands for apologies for Japan’s past sins have been highly selective.
It is true that Japan has not been as contrite as one would wish and the visits by Japan’s prime minister to Yasukuni Shrine, where some war criminals are buried, are poor diplomacy. But plenty of British textbooks, for example, show scant regard for Chinese views of the Opium Wars or the destruction of the Summer Palace. Likewise many American ones gloss over the massacres that accompanied the “civilizing” U.S. occupation of the Philippines. Queen Elizabeth II has not apologized to Indians for the Amritsar massacre and statues commemorating the bloody exploits of British imperialists are two a penny in London. Beijing also likes to forget that for much of Asia beyond China and Korea, Japan’s imperialism was welcomed as hastening the end of Western imperialism.
As for the South Koreans, in their demands for more Japanese groveling they like to forget the fact that President Park Chung Hee, widely praised for masterminding their economic miracle, was himself an officer in the Japanese army of occupation in Manchuria.
If none of this historical mud-slinging got beyond the more sensational news media it could be dismissed as no more relevant than the childish anti-German antics of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid press in Britain. But official encouragement of xenophobic attitudes is worrying in a region where cooperation will be vital when the United States is no longer both buyer and peacekeeper of last resort. It casts a shadow on much-advertised hopes of bilateral and regional free trade agreements, and currency cooperation, particularly for Southeast Asia, which needs Chinese-Japanese accord.
China’s stance on Japan’s membership of the Security Council makes nonsense of its claims to represent the developing and upcoming world. It is a crude and blatant attempt to protect its privileged position as the only Asian and only developing country that is a permanent member of the council. If there is to be reform of the United Nations and expansion of the Security Council to reflect the world today, Japan’s membership, along with that of India, Germany and Brazil, is essential.
Proposals for UN reform are due to be debated in September. The most favored new model for the Security Council is for an additional six permanent and three nonpermanent members, none with veto power. Discussion may get nowhere, as the United States, as well as China, appears to oppose enlargement, and Britain and France seem unwilling to give any ground in return for Germany’s membership. A more limited enlargement might attract U.S. backing.
Any country that purports to want greater Asian representation deserves bitter criticism if in practice it thwarts the aspirations of Japan and India. Pakistan’s objection to India’s membership is just as petty as South Korea’s objection to Japan’s. They show governments driven by the most narrow and self-centered considerations.
Perhaps China’s outburst of jingoism toward Japan will persuade the United States to take a more favorable view of Security Council reform, recognizing that a larger permanent membership (without veto powers) would be in its longer-term interest. China, of course, could still veto such enlargement, but is unlikely to do so. Its leaders usually have a better understanding of its global interests than displayed by the current outburst in Beijing.