The New York Times today took a whack at what Abe Shinzo should do as the new prime minister of Japan. The editorial is both reasonable and unambitious in urging Abe to work toward better relations with China and other nearby states. It ends:
Japan has a great deal to be proud of, including an increasingly vital democracy, a revived economy and the difficult but necessary economic reforms that Mr. Koizumi began to push through and that Mr. Abe will now need to take further. It does not need to glorify the darkest period of its recent history and the war criminals most responsible for that terrible aberration.
But on the way to a reasonable conclusion, the Times loses its way. Regarding Chinese anti-Japan sentiment, the editorial says “an ugly, but increasingly distant, history of Japanese aggression and war crimes stands in the way.” While all history is technically increasingly distant as time passes, history is only distant when it ceases to maintain a prominent position in popular consciousness. Japanese aggression is not distant in China; it is reinforced in the public sphere by the CCP, as Peter Hays Gries writes in China’s New Nationalism. This editorial would have us believe history is declining in importance.
Or would it? The writer still finds space to criticise Japanese textbooks for inaccurately reflecting the nation’s war aggression, despite the fact that most of the headlines coming out of the Japanese textbook controversy surround a book almost no one uses.
I wish the Times were more careful with its words when taking this essentially reasonable stand.