August 3, 2005
Copyright The New York Times
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
and HOWARD W. FRENCH
TOKYO, Aug. 2 – Japanese lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a resolution that plays down this country’s militarist policies in World War II, less than two weeks before ceremonies take place across Asia marking the 60th anniversary of the war’s end on Aug. 15.
Though expressing “regret” for the wartime past, the resolution omitted the references to “invasion” and “colonial rule” that were in the version passed on the 50th anniversary.
The action will most likely be seen by China and Japan’s other Asian neighbors as further proof of growing nationalism here. A right-wing vandal seemed to capture a growing sentiment last week when he tried to scrape off the word “mistake” from a peace memorial in Hiroshima that said of Japan’s war efforts: “Let all the souls here rest in peace, as we will never repeat this mistake.”
But in the weeks leading to Aug. 15, the leaders of China have been making sure that their view of the war, simply called the Anti-Japanese War there, gets across. China is spending $50 million to renovate a memorial hall for the victims of the Rape of Nanjing in 1937, when Japanese soldiers killed 100,000 to 300,000 civilians, at a time when details of it are disappearing from Japanese school textbooks. Chinese state television is broadcasting hundreds of programs on China’s resistance against Imperial Japan.
The two countries find themselves playing out old grievances in a new era of direct rivalry for power and influence. Never before in modern times has East Asia had to contend with a strong China and a strong Japan at the same time, and the prospect feeds suspicion and hostility in both countries.
China has experienced 25 years of extraordinary economic growth, deeply extending its influence throughout Asia. But just when China’s moment in the sun seems to be dawning, Japan is asserting itself: seeking a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, transforming its Self-Defense Forces into a real military and revising its war-renouncing Constitution.
Both governments are encouraging nationalism for their own political purposes: China to shore up loyalty as Marxist ideology fades, Japan to overcome long-held taboos against expanding its military. With the impending 60th anniversary, both are trying to forge a future on their version of the past.
In Japan, major newspapers have published articles defending the Class A war criminals convicted by the postwar Tokyo Trials, and a growing number of textbooks whitewash Japan’s wartime conduct. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi makes annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, where war dead including Class A war criminals are enshrined.
In China, a new television series called “Hero City” tells of how cities across China “fought bravely against Japan under the leadership of the Communist Party.” In Beijing on Aug. 13, six former Chinese airmen from the Flying Tigers squadron are to recreate an air duel with Japanese fighters.
“On the one hand we have a victim’s mentality, and on the other we don’t see this much smaller country as being worthy of comparison with us,” said Pang Zhongying, a professor of international relations at Nankai University in the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin. “The reality is that they must accept the idea of China as a rising military power, and we must accept the idea of Japan becoming a normal nation, whether we like it or not.”
To Japanese conservatives, becoming a normal nation amounts to a revision of the American-imposed peace Constitution that they feel castrated – a term they use deliberately and frequently – their country.
Arguing that Japan must draw closer to the United States, Mr. Koizumi’s government has reinterpreted the Constitution to allow Japanese troops in Iraq and has reversed a longtime ban on the export of arms to join the American missile defense shield. Recent polls show an increasing percentage of Japanese favoring a revision of the Constitution.
The conservative news media have helped demonize China, as well as North Korea, to soften popular resistance to remilitarization. Sankei Shimbun, the country’s most conservative daily, recently ran a series about China called “The Threatening Superpower.”
One of the most emotional issues has been the dozen or so Japanese who were abducted by North Korea, mostly in the 1970’s. The whereabouts of one woman, Megumi Yokota, remains a particularly sore point.
North Korea said she had died, and late last year gave Japan what it said were her remains. After DNA tests were done, the Japanese government accused North Korea of deliberately handing over someone else’s remains, though most independent experts called the tests inconclusive.
Shinzo Abe, 50, the acting secretary general of the governing Liberal Democratic Party and the leading member of a young generation of hawks, immediately called for economic sanctions.
Hiromu Nonaka, 79, who retired as secretary general about a year ago, said the present situation reminded him of prewar Japan, when politicians manipulated public opinion to rouse nationalism through slogans like “Destroy the brute Americans and British.”
“Mr. Abe, who has been in the forefront of the abductee issue, turned toward making all of North Korea into the enemy,” Mr. Nonaka said.
Mr. Abe is also one of several conservative politicians who defend textbooks that have outraged Chinese and South Korean demonstrators by sanitizing Japan’s wartime atrocities. References to the women forced into sexual servitude by Japan’s wartime authorities, called comfort women, all but disappeared this year from governmentendorsed junior high school textbooks.
At a recent news conference, Mr. Abe was asked whether politicians had exaggerated the threat from North Korea and China to influence public opinion and ease Japan toward revising its peace Constitution. “Well, there may be such opinions, but I think it’s rubbish,” he said.
In China and Japan alike, hatred and suspicion of the other are being deliberately fostered, in many cases by the governments themselves.
In Tokyo, 291 teachers have been reprimanded in the last year and many may face dismissal for refusing to stand before the rising-sun flag at school enrollment and graduation ceremonies and sing Japan’s national anthem, “Kimigayo,” or “His Majesty’s Reign,” considered symbols of Japanese imperialism by most Asians and some Japanese. Those signals of respect used to be optional, or shunned because of their associations with Japan’s past militarism.
Efforts to control how the Japanese, especially the young, view Japan and China have even reached the comics. Late last year, 47 local Japanese politicians from all over the country protested that a comic series called “The Country Is Burning,” published in “Young Jump Weekly,” had distorted the Rape of Nanjing.
The drawings did not actually depict Japanese soldiers committing atrocities, but showed ditches filled with Chinese cadavers. The magazine’s publisher quickly backed down and announced that it would delete or modify the offending passages when the series was reprinted in book form.
Hidekazu Inubushi, a politician and leader of the protest, added that forcing respect of the Japanese national anthem and flag was necessary because postwar Japanese education had focused too much on wartime misdeeds and produced graduates who were not proud of their country.
“To correct the big mistake in our education in the postwar 60 years, we’ve got to introduce forceful methods,” he said.
Today’s Chinese have been shaped by an anti-Japanese patriotic education, overseen by a government that is aware that its own domestic credentials depend, in part, on a hard line toward Japan. Having a hated neighbor shores up national solidarity and helps distract people from the failings of the Chinese Communist Party. Besides the party’s monopoly on power, few orthodoxies are as untouchable today as hostility toward Japan.
Yu Jie, a Chinese author who spent time in Japan researching a book on the two countries’ relations, “Iron and Plough,” and went on to write another book about his experiences in Japan, discovered that at his own expense.
The books are nuanced works, built around lengthy conversations with pacifists, right-wing activists, scholars of every stripe and ordinary Japanese. One chapter, “Looking for Japan’s Conscience,” warned against speaking of Japanese in blanket terms.
“In the 60 years since the war, numerous Chinese and Japanese people have worked for the difficult Sino-Japanese friendship, selflessly emitting a dim yet precious light,” he wrote.
The books appeared briefly in stores and then disappeared. In a country where censorship is routine, that is a sure sign, the author said, that officials had put pressure on the publisher or the stores to withdraw them.
Mr. Yu said China’s policy toward Japan was unlikely to become more balanced as long as an authoritarian government remained in place, because Japan offered an unrivaled distraction from China’s own problems.
“We criticize Yasukuni Shrine, but we have Mao Zedong’s shrine in the middle of Beijing, which is our own Yasukuni,” he said. “This is a shame to me, because Mao Zedong killed more Chinese than the Japanese did. Until we are able to recognize our own problems, the Japanese won’t take us seriously.”
Norimitsu Onishi reported from Tokyo for this article, and Howard W. French from Shanghai.