TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2005 Copyright The International Herald Tribune
WASHINGTON Two days before Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s recent landslide electoral victory in Japan, five of China’s warships were spotted near a gas field in some contested waters between the two countries in the East China Sea. This probably helped Koizumi pick up extra votes from those Japanese who are increasingly worried about China’s not-so-peaceful rise.
If so, China contributed to a result it probably didn’t welcome. The stunning victory gave Koizumi a clear mandate to further advance his main objective of turning Japan into a “normal” nation. A key component of a normal Japan is to cease its habitual submissiveness to China, which has been the predominant attitude since the end of World War II.
Japan, after all, had good reason to be deferent after the war. Though Japan had inflicted tremendous suffering upon the Chinese people and others, Emperor Hirohito was spared the war crimes tribunal and thus a likely death penalty. In 1952, the Republic of China, under the government of Chiang Kai-shek, waived its reparation claims against Japan. When Japan established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1972, Mao Zedong went further and thanked the Japanese for the invasion, as it had helped the Communists to defeat the weakened Nationalists.
China takes full advantage of Japan’s war guilt and stirs up anti-Japanese sentiment whenever Japan is seen as not subservient enough. Tokyo is accused of many misdeeds, including not having apologized for the war and not being straight with facts in history textbooks. Nothing is further from the truth. Koizumi had apologized twice this year for Japan’s war actions more than six decades ago. Enough is enough.
It’s also rich for the Chinese Communist Party to lecture others on honest history. Beijing can’t even face up to what happened 16 years ago in Tiananmen Square. Not to mention the tens of millions of deaths, more than at the hands of the Japanese, caused by the Communists in their 56 years of rule. Unlike China, where the government dictates an official version of history, Japan is a democracy that allows freedom of expression. Unorthodox thoughts, even wrong ones, are protected under the law, and publishers are free to print their versions of history. The Chinese conveniently ignore the fact that only a handful of schools in Japan are using the textbook that is deemed problematic.
What the Chinese also conveniently ignore is $30 billion in low-interest development aid from Japan since 1979. Call it what you like, there’s no denying that this has been a form of reparations. Japan’s decision last March to phase out most aid by 2008, when China hosts the Olympic Games, was of course not taken well by Beijing. This was one of the unspoken reasons behind the anti-Japanese riots in many Chinese cities last spring.
What changed Japan’s mind? The Tiananmen massacre. It prompted Japan to see its giant neighbor in fresh perspective, as an uncertain rising hegemony. The recent anti-Japanese riots didn’t help either. Akihiko Tanaka, professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo and a Koizumi adviser, recently told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that Japan “wants to create an environment for China to become a peaceful and stable country.” He further said Japan didn’t want to be “dictated by China.”
China’s real issue with Japan, disguised by historical complaints, lies in the fact that Japan under Koizumi has become a stauncher ally of the United States. Most notably, the U.S.-Japanese joint statement on common goals in the Taiwan dispute, implying that Japan might not simply stand by in case of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, angered China last February. China also opposed Japan’s bid for permanent membership on the UN Security Council, which rightly had the support of the Bush administration. Japan, the second-largest contributor to the UN after America, deserves the seat, which would be another sign of its having become a normal country.
Fairly or unfairly, the White House might also take Koizumi’s victory as another vindication of George W. Bush’s war against terrorism. After all, Koizumi, following the footsteps of his Australian and British counterparts, was the third key supporter of the Iraqi war to be re-elected amid the controversy it caused. No doubt Bush, well known for differentiating between friends and non-friends, will further help Japan to become a more normal nation in the years to come.
A big “peacefully rising” nation versus a small “normally rising” nation – that’s the new feature in the East Asia theater.
(Kin-ming Liu is a Washington-based columnist for Hong Kong’s Apple Daily.)