Abe’s Avoidance of the Past

Copyright The New York Times

Abe’s Avoidance of the Past




Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

TOKYO — For months, speculation built in East Asia in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, which ended World War II.

Would the new, conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who wants Japan to play a more assertive role on the world stage, address questions of wartime responsibility and guilt in a different way than his predecessors had?

In the end, Mr. Abe said little on Friday that was new. He prevaricated on the causes of the war and on the exact nature of the worst of Japan’s atrocities — from the forced recruitment of thousands of so-called comfort women, or sex slaves, from Korea and China, to the devastating military tactics employed to subjugate the country’s neighbors. Rather than apologize in personal terms, Mr. Abe was content to cite the apologies of his predecessors, before stating that it was unreasonable either for today’s young, or for future generations of Japanese, to have to feel guilty about events that took place long before their birth.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Abe’s speech elicited strong and immediate criticism from China and South Korea. What is more interesting were the rebukes he drew from important segments of Japanese society. At a peace ceremony on Saturday, with Mr. Abe in attendance, the 81-year-old emperor, Akihito — whose father, Hirohito, prosecuted Japan’s conquest of Asia beginning in the 1930s — broke new ground for himself by expressing “profound remorse” over the war. Tomiichi Murayama, the 91-year-old former prime minister, was more direct in his criticism of Mr. Abe: “Fine phrases were written, but the statement does not say what the apology is for and what to do from now on.”

It was Mr. Murayama who in 1995 — on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end — offered Japan’s strongest official apology, when he spoke of the “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those in Asia,” caused by Japanese colonialism and aggression, and personally expressed his “feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology.”

During its peak economic boom years, in the 1980s, Japan was also the world’s largest provider of development assistance, and concentrated most of its grants and loans on Asia. Japan played a particularly instrumental role in midwifing China’s economic surge, providing billions of dollars in investment, critical new technologies, and even political support to its communist neighbor, for example, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Time and again, however, good-will initiatives like this have foundered on the basis of equivocal language, and on the provocative actions of Japanese leaders themselves, often taken to mollify conservative constituents. The most notorious of these actions have been their repeated visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto monument to the country’s modern war dead, including numerous officers who were tried after Japan’s defeat as so-called Class-A war criminals.

Mr. Abe occupies a singular and complex place in this narrative. The maternal grandfather he often reminisces about fondly, Nobusuke Kishi, oversaw industrial development in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in the 1930s, during a time of rampant sex slavery, prostitution and narcotics dealing. A far-right politician with fascist leanings, Kishi was later minister of munitions in the war cabinet of Hideki Tojo, and was imprisoned on suspicion of war crimes, although never tried, helping position him to later become an important, early postwar prime minister. Mr. Abe himself pursued rapprochement with China during his brief, first tour as prime minister, a decade ago, after a period of heightened tensions between the two countries under his boss and predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, over his visits to Yasukuni.

In 2013, on the first anniversary of his second stint as prime minister, however, Mr. Abe inflamed relations with China and Korea by visiting Yasukuni himself. Since then, in the face of stiffening domestic opposition, Mr. Abe has inflamed mistrust by revising laws to allow Japan to sidestep restrictions in its pacifist Constitution and to take on more responsibility for its own defense and enhance military collaboration with its allies, especially the United States.

Why have deep divisions lingered so much longer in East Asia than they did in Europe — where Germany was much more willing to accept its responsibility for the war, and its neighbors therefore far more willing to get on with things?

Part of it, no doubt, is because of calculations by Beijing that having a historical antagonist readily at hand is politically useful, especially as the country’s ideological mainstays of Maoism and Marxism-Leninism have lost their relevance. This has left the Chinese Communist Party with only two pillars upon which to stake its legitimacy, strident nationalism and dwindling economic growth.

According to William A. Callahan, a China scholar at the University of Manchester, in 2012 fully 60 percent of the movies and TV programs produced by the leading production company, Hengdian World Studios, involved anti-Japanese plots. In that year alone, he estimated that 700 million Japanese were shown being killed in these programs, or more than five times the actual population of Japan.

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What’s behind Beijing’s drive to control the South China Sea? (Guardian Long

Copyright The Guardian

A satellite image of Chinese land reclamation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands.
 A satellite image of Chinese land reclamation on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands. Photograph: DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

On 26 May, CNN broadcast an unusual clip of a US navy intelligence flight over the South China Sea. The P-8A Poseidon surveillance plane – one of the newest weapons in the Pentagon’s arsenal – had taken off, with a CNN reporter on board, from Clark airbase in the Philippines, once part of America’s largest overseas base complex during the cold war. After about 45 minutes, the plane reached its first target – which had, until recently, been an obscure, almost entirely submerged feature in the Spratly Island group.

Fifteen thousand feet below, dozens of Chinese ships tossed at anchor. Their crews had been working day and night for weeks, dredging sand and rock from the ocean floor to fill in a stunning blue lagoon – turning a 3.7-mile-long reef that had only partially revealed itself to the daylight at low tide into a sizable man-made island nearly 1,000 miles away from the Chinese mainland.

At the approach of the American aircraft, a Chinese radio operator can be heard addressing the pilot: “This is the Chinese navy. This is the Chinese navy … Please leave immediately to avoid misunderstanding.” When the plane, which was busily photographing the land-reclamation effort, failed to heed these instructions, the operator grew exasperated, and the recording ends as abruptly as it had begun, with him shouting the words: “You go!”

 China’s land grab in the South China Sea

For many people who viewed this clip, it might have almost passed for entertainment, but the plane continued on to a place called Fiery Cross, whose history and recent development point to how deadly serious the struggle over the South China Sea has become. Fiery Cross came under Chinese control in 1988, following a confrontation with Vietnam at a nearby site, Johnson Reef, where Chinese troops opened fire from a ship on a contingent of Vietnamese soldiers who stood in knee-deep seas after having planted their country’s flag in the coral. A YouTube video of the incident shows dozens of Vietnamese being cut down in the water under a hail of machine-gun fire.

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Book Review: ‘By All Means Necessary,’ by Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi

Copyright Wall Street Journal

In Mongolia, fear of becoming dependent on Beijing led leaders to build national railroads using a different gauge from China’s. See WSJ original here.



Feb. 20, 2014 7:24 p.m. ET
In January 2008, an Omaha-based commodity trader placed a $100-a-barrel bid for Oklahoma crude. “This is the big one,” he declared of his transaction, which pushed the price of oil to an all-time high. Commodity analysts had a seemingly satisfying explanation for the historic surge: With its double-digit economic growth rates, China was pushing the world toward a state of resource scarcity and ever higher prices.

Elizabeth Economy and Michael Levi use this anecdote as the opening scene in “By All Means Necessary: How China’s Resource Quest Is Changing the World,” a mostly dry but wide-ranging and richly informed look at how the rapid growth of the world’s most-populous country is affecting the global economy. Yet the oil trader’s story is deployed merely to be knocked down, as the authors show how well markets have accommodated the new demand. For all the talk of Beijing locking up supplies, China’s share of the world’s oil, by historical standards, isn’t especially remarkable.

According to the authors, in other words, China’s supposedly pending economic takeover of the world’s resources is more hype than reality. Ms. Economy and Mr. Levi, both senior fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, range from commodity to commodity and sector to sector to show that China’s economy and culture are being changed at least as much by the world as China is exerting transformative change upon it. As this process unfolds, they argue, many of the West’s worst fears about the rise of a state-capitalist juggernaut will dissipate.

Even before they get very far with China, the authors draw a useful analogy with another Asian giant: Japan. In the 1950s and ’60s, that country posted growth rates similar to China’s today. “Japanese oil imports accounted for a considerably larger part of the world market than Chinese imports do today,” they write. “Japan boosted its share of world steel production, the main source of demand for iron ore, from 6 percent in 1960 to 17 percent by 1973, nearly passing the United States, and spurring a demand for iron ore imports that greatly exceeded U.S. demand.” And yet, they add, “Australia did not become a Japanese mine,” as many at the time had darkly predicted.

By Elizabeth C. Economy and Michael Levi
(Oxford, 279 pages. $27.95)

Matters with China will follow much the same pattern, Ms. Economy and Mr. Levi suggest. Talk of the country taking over big natural-resource players in Africa and elsewhere is mostly unfounded; China won’t be governing countries like South Sudan merely because it has invested heavily there. For starters, there is little evidence that China seeks direct control over energy sources abroad. Far from developing captive sources, China’s big state oil companies, for example, sell most of their supplies on the open market. These companies, moreover, have been constrained by a variety of responses from producing countries. In big Western markets like the United States, Canada and Australia, a combination of regulations and political attitudes have often thwarted Chinese ambitions to take controlling stakes in strategic industries or companies.

In Central Asia, China has become a big player quickly, but it was late to a game still mostly played by Russian rules that govern the supply and transport of oil and gas. In neighboring Mongolia, a fear of becoming dependent on China has brought a wide range of measures, from tough rules on investment and immigration to the odd decision to build a railroad that uses a different gauge from that of its neighbor.

Arguably more important than all of this, the authors say, is the way China is often forced to bend to the reality of international markets. Once China surpassed Japan in steel production in the mid-2000s, for example, state planners pushed consolidation of the industry in order to maximize the country’s market power. So far, this approach hasn’t succeeded, as dozens of relatively small players in China continue to fight for survival, meaning that Japan, Korea and big European buyers play leading roles as market makers for long-term contracts.

The authors indirectly raise and leave largely unresolved perhaps the most crucial problem raised by their book. “China has, of course, not invaded other countries to exploit their natural resources,” they write. “Still, many have argued that the pattern of extracting resources abroad but shipping them home for processing is colonialism in another form.”

Colonialism is in the eyes of the beholder. As the authors note, Beijing relies more on “informal relationships and personal ties than working through formal institutions or legal practices. One consequence of this is that other authoritarian states in particular find the Chinese state-centered but personalistic approach reassuring.” Nowhere is this more visible than in Africa, where the disparity between China’s fast-growing wealth and power and its emerging clients is greatest. Without more openness and respect for local laws and civil society, it seems likely that Africans will begin to pose questions about what booming economic ties with China are costing them in terms of their independence and long-term development.

Some are already posing such questions. As Nigeria’s central-bank governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, told the Financial Times in March 2013: “China takes from us primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. China is no longer a fellow underdeveloped economy. China is the second biggest economy in the world, an economic giant capable of the same forms of exploitation as the West. China is a major contributor to the de-industrialization of Africa and thus African underdevelopment.”

Mr. French teaches at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author of the forthcoming “China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa.”

‘Forgotten Ally,’ by Rana Mitter: Some 14 million Chinese died in World War II, a conflict that was never strictly one between totalitarianism and freedom.

Mr. Mitter’s book gives China its historical due. It chronicles the immense cost that China bore as it absorbed Japan’s 800,000-troop invasion beginning in 1937—two years before Britain and four years before the U.S. entered World War II—and deflected the brunt of the Red Sun’s destructive energies away from other theaters and Western armies. Some 14 million Chinese died as a result of the conflict. In the infamous Nanjing massacre of 1937, the Japanese 10th Army raped women en masse, used male civilians for saber practice, and set tied-together groups of 100 or more detainees afire with gasoline.

Copyright Wall Street Journal



‘Who lost China?” is a question that echoes quaintly down from another age. It refers to the victory of the Communists in the Chinese Civil War that followed on the heels of World War II and set the Middle Kingdom up as an adversary of the West in the decades ahead.

The question has always been preposterous on one level: China was never realistically anyone’s to lose in the first place. Indeed, the thrust of several decades of Chinese history before the outbreak of war between Nationalists and Communists in 1927 was a struggle to free the country from domination by outside powers, the U.S. included.

Rana Mitter’s “Forgotten Ally” is an important and compelling history of China’s World War II experience. It makes the who-lost-China question fresh again by closely examining Beijing’s role in the Allied war effort, the heavy and often thankless price paid by the Chinese in their fight against Japan, and the impact of China’s wartime traumas on the country’s postwar development.

“For decades, our understanding of that global conflict has failed to give a proper account of the role of China,” the author writes early on. “If China was considered at all, it was as a minor player, a bit-part actor in a war where the United States, Soviet Union, and Britain played much more significant roles.”

In this way, the scholarly neglect today of China’s World War II contributions mirrors the earlier neglect of Soviet sacrifices. Only toward the end of the Cold War did Western historians begin to accord more generous credit to the Russians and to allow for greater moral complexity in the story of a war that was never strictly one between totalitarianism and freedom.


Forgotten Ally

By Rana Mitter
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 450 pages, $30)

Mr. Mitter’s book gives China its historical due. It chronicles the immense cost that China bore as it absorbed Japan’s 800,000-troop invasion beginning in 1937—two years before Britain and four years before the U.S. entered World War II—and deflected the brunt of the Red Sun’s destructive energies away from other theaters and Western armies. Some 14 million Chinese died as a result of the conflict. In the infamous Nanjing massacre of 1937, the Japanese 10th Army raped women en masse, used male civilians for saber practice, and set tied-together groups of 100 or more detainees afire with gasoline.

To continue reading, please click here.

Ask Obama and Romney this: Where is Africa?

Copyright Columbia Journalism Review

Over the final days of the campaign, CJR is running a series of pieces under the headline “Ask Obama This” and “Ask Romney This,” suggesting themes and questions that reporters and pundits can put to the presidential candidates. So far we’ve asked President Obama about his short term jobs plan and about housing, and Governor Romney about his plans for the Middle East. Howard French asked both candidates about a hidden aspect of China policy, and here, about Africa.

Four debates down, and the word “Africa” has been uttered just once, in passing.

What is most disturbing about an observation like this is how little it surprises. Not since the Kennedy Administration has the United States seen Africa—the continent of Africa, and not the odd country or momentary crisis—as the theater of any top-drawer foreign policy concerns.

And across Africa, a feeling of letdown at the Obama administration’s lack of engagement with the continent is palpable. Because of his background, expectations were higher for the incumbent president in this regard than they have been for perhaps any of his predecessors.

After a rousing early trip to Ghana in the summer of 2009, where he praised that fast-growing country’s maturing democracy and summoned African leaders to serve their populations better Obama has all but abandoned direct personal engagement with the sub-Saharan portion of the continent, squandering his great potential for strong personal connections with the continent and the soft power benefits that go with it.

This is more than a personal story, though. The reason why American leaders tend to ignore Africa is linked to a traditional belief, deeply seated in our foreign policy establishment’s mindset, that the United States has no vital interests in the continent. An important associated thought is that Africa can only and forever be a burden, with the US called upon to foot the bill when major crises erupt there.

Neither of these ideas could have withstood much scrutiny if an all-too-passive press had bothered to challenge the assumptions that underlie them. And with the African landscape changing rapidly, in deeply significant ways, such attitudes have never been more out of step with the times.

Africa currently boasts about one billion people. United Nations projections say that by the population of the continent will more than triple by the end of the century, to jump to about 3.9 billion. Such a steady and astounding increase creates enormous opportunities for the US, as well as enormous challenges.

With American policy attitudes stuck in a mindset of Africa, and particularly sub-Saharan Africa, as the ward of the rich world, we have lost sight of the options that Africa’s ongoing demographic, economic, and political changes present for us.

On the opportunity side, there are several ways to look at this. In recent years, six or seven of the world’s fastest growing economies have been in Africa and Africa has by some estimates become the fasting growing continent overall. Africa is also urbanizing faster than any other part of the world, and as that happens, the middle classes in Africa are sprouting rapidly. These are the consumers of the future, people who can potentially pick up the slack from the slow-growing, aging, and indebted countries of the rich and developed world.

Against this backdrop, African leaders and the people of the continent clearly perceive—and have come to resent—the sort of hold your nose, arms-length paternalism that guides so much of our scant focus on them.

And nowadays they have a powerful point of comparison. It has hardly been given notice in high-level policy circles until recently, but for about a decade, China has been plowing investment into the continent and showering it with attention. Not a year goes by when not one, but several top Chinese leaders tour Africa. And the most important message they send is that unlike the US and others in the West, China sees Africa as a place of extraordinary opportunity, as the continent of the future, and as the site of the next great phase of globalization.

Chinese opportunism is at work here, of course; one might even say cynicism. But what China has had in its favor for the last ten years or so is a virtual monopoly on the playing field. So much so that if nothing important changes, historians may look back in 20 or 30 years and ask the question: Who lost Africa?

The questions for the Obama and Romney campaigns, then, are: How will your administration break with Washington’s outdated Africa policies? How will the United States keep pace with China and other emerging economic powers, like India, Brazil and Turkey, which are all stepping up their engagements with Africa? What, specifically, can the US do to help develop markets in Africa, tap the huge, ongoing demographic shift there, and change the relationship between this country and the continent into one of much greater opportunity for all concerned?

Click here for the original link, and here for a second campaign piece about the U.S. role in any China-Japan conflict.