Tag Archives: China-Japan

Yasukuni in Context: Nationalism and History in Japan

Documents revealed in March that the Japanese government’s long-held position that it had nothing to do with the enshrinement of war criminals at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo wasn’t exactly, well, accurate. This week at Japan Focus, Akiko Takenaka has written a great update on these revelations. It’s published with an Asahi Shimbun editorial calling for the release of more documents and repeating its position that a secular memorial to war dead ought to be established—a position shared by an unlikely ally for the center-left daily, the center-right Yomiuri Shimbun. Japan Focus two years ago translated two editorials that represented an up-tick in momentum for that movement. It was significant to see the two largest newspapers in Japan (and in the world) agree for once on such a controversial issue.

I want to include an excerpt from Takenaka’s analysis, because it describes well why World War II reconciliation between Japan and its victims is so fraught. No single issue, not even Yasukuni, is the linchpin of tension over history.

Many, particularly international critics, have pointed out that the heart of the Yasukuni problem is the Japanese government’s glorification of its military past and reluctance to accept responsibility for its wartime deeds. State patronage of Yasukuni is intimately related to LDP efforts to revise the Constitution in order to strengthen Japan’s war-making powers. But simple removal of the physical structure of Yasukuni, or disenshrinement of the war criminals, will not resolve the Yasukuni problem. Let me explain. Many Japanese who are critical of the war and of Japanese war crimes, focus their criticisms on the shrine itself, including state involvement in the shrine, and the failure of the state to adequately provide apology and reparations to Asian victims of Japan’s wartime aggression and war crimes. In the process, like the new postwar generation of nationalists who currently lead the LDP, they fail to question the war responsibilities of the Japanese people, including their parents and grandparents – or, even themselves, for their reluctance to initiate a sincere dialogue on making amends. The ultimate solution to the problems associated with Yasukuni Shrine and crimes of war can only be resolved when both state and people accept responsibility and act to put the dark episodes of the war behind them through sincere apologies, reparations, and education of the next generations of Japanese.

The political hack in me wonders what kind of deal might be struck to satisfy some Japanese voters’ nationalist emotions while backing off of the rhetoric and actions that draw so much diplomatic criticism from China, South Korea, and other countries. If Japanese nationalists truly desire to make their nation a “normal country” in international affairs, perhaps they could lose some of the bravado displayed by implicit glorification of Japan’s aggressive past. Indeed, objectives such as gaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council might meet less opposition if, to paraphrase Chinese government statements in April 2005, Japan faced up to its history.

I’m not so naïve as to imagine such a compromise is a realistic possibility; nationalism in Japan, as anywhere, is not often so cold and calculated as to cede ground on issues of pride in favor of more concrete gains. And it’s not necessarily safe to assume China would stop opposing Japan in the UNSC example just because leaders shunned Yasukuni.

What emerges from this line of reasoning is the possibility that concrete political moves such as UNSC membership or Article 9 revision are fundamentally secondary to questions of national pride. Perhaps liberals in Japan could achieve some of their goals by wrapping pacifism in the flag. If only that could work in both Japan and the United States, we’d be in business.

McCain on N. Korea, Rearming Japan, and Taiwan (Oct. 2006)

In a Hannity & Colmes interview last year devoted mostly to attacking U.S. efforts to control North Korea under President Bill Clinton, Senator John McCain—now a leading Republican presidential candidate—said if the United Nations doesn’t do enough to control North Korea, Japan will have to “rearm.” And he said, puzzlingly, that something he refers to as “it” would be in China’s interest … referring to Taiwan! Here’s the quote, from October 11, 2006:

HANNITY: Senator, you know, just as we’re coming on the air here tonight, Japan is suspecting that North Korea, in fact, conducted a second nuclear test. And, as we think about this, what is the answer here? Is the answer that we worked through the United Nations or is a stronger answer that we rearm Japan, that we offer them some type of missile defense, and perhaps they even become nuclear-prepared?

MCCAIN: If the United Nations, because of China and Russia, do not invoke the strictest form of sanctions, that will affect our relations with both countries in a variety of ways. It is in China’s interest, not for any reason other than it’s not in China’s interest to see an escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Yes, the Japanese would have to rearm. The Japanese would have to acquire defensive weapons. What happens with Taiwan? The whole area could be in jeopardy of some kind of conflagration. That’s why it’s in China’s interest. [emphasis mine]

And, by the way, they control the food, and they control the oil that goes into North Korea. And they could exercise that if they want to.

So first the United Nations sanctions. But China has got to play a greater role. And they’ve been doing pretty well.

HANNITY: Rearming Japan, a resolution to defend Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, that would all be in the areas that you would suggest to the president at this particular point, remind the Chinese that, in fact, the Olympics are coming?

MCCAIN: Yes. And I would also make it clear to the Chinese that we’re not happy with some things, like the currency exchange. We’re not happy with their repression of democracy. We’re not happy with their failure to progress recently on a path to a free and open society.

And we will continue our steadfast belief that Taiwan will only be reunited to China if it’s done in a peaceful manner and the people of Taiwan desire to do so. Until then, we will protect them.

This second answer looks like an exercise in unloading predetermined China talking points. It strikes the usual ambiguous note on Taiwan.

But let’s take the bolded statement apart. He says Japan would have to “rearm” and “acquire defensive weapons,” when in fact Japan already has defensive weapons, and U.S. patriot missiles have been deployed in Okinawa since June 2006. Rearming could mean replacing current weapons with other, similar ones. More likely it means bringing Japan’s level of armament back to a higher, former level. Given McCain’s invocation of a possible regional “conflagration” that could involve Taiwan, we can only assume he means revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and giving Japan the right to engage in collective self defense.

It’s entirely unclear to me whether he means that rearming Japan would be in China’s interest or that a strong U.N. reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test is in its interest because anything less would lead to rearming Japan.

It would be nice to ask some follow-ups now that the North Korea situation has cooled off.

Nixon in China Part One: Keeping Japan in Line

This is the first of two posts in which I will outline some historical context on U.S.–China–Japan relations surrounding Nixon’s 1972 China visit. This material is all drawn from Margaret MacMillan’s Nixon and Mao, which I recently finished reading. (Page citations are included.) The book was full of engaging reconstructions of the diplomatic maneuvers and rhetorical subtleties of the visit and the extensive preparations. Its only weakness is the sometimes elementary background information that is interspersed throughout.

Nixon, in conversations with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai,* tried to make the case that U.S. involvement in Asia was good for China. Its ability to keep Japan in check was a primary reason, along with balancing India and of course the Soviet Union. If the United States withdrew from providing Japan with security, he argued, Japan may rearm, which would be disagreeable to China and the rest of Asia. He said the United States could keep Japan under control.

“But,” Nixon warned Zhou solemnly, “if the U.S. is gone from Asia, gone from Japan, our protests, no matter how loud, would be like—to use the Prime Minister [Zhou]’s phrase—firing an empty cannon; we would have no rallying effect because fifteen thousand miles away is just too far to be heard.”

In response, Zhou paid little attention to the suggestion that having American troops in Asia helped China. Indeed, he pointed out, their presence in Indochina was only helping the Soviets increase their influence there. (236)

Meanwhile, Zhou had brought up the suffering Japan had caused China in the past with Kissinger frequently in the 1971 talks leading up to Nixon’s visit. Noting Japan’s developing market and appetite for raw materials and markets abroad, Zhou told Nixon, “Expanding in such a great way as they are towards foreign lands, the inevitable result will be military expansion.” (238) Quoting directly from MacMillan:

The Americans, Zhou charged, had been careless in helping Japan rebuild after the Second World War: “You helped Japan fatten herself, and now she is a very heavy burden on you.” It had also been a mistake to receive the Japanese emperor in the Unite States; as Zhou had said earlier to Kissinger, he remained the basis on which a renewed Japanese militarism could be built. … Although the Chinese wanted the United States to reduce its forces in Asia, Zhou in his talks with Kissinger and now with Nixon repeated expressed concern that Japan would move its troops into countries such as Taiwan and South Korea to fill the vacuum. (238–9)

I may just have missed it, but the emperor seems to have fallen out of the debate over Japanese rearmament these days. Much of the rest of the sentiments seem to resonate quite a bit 35 years down the line.

*I use the Pinyin spelling. Macmillan uses Wade-Giles. I have changed her renderings for my style.

Next time: Japan’s reactions to the Nixon visit.

Wen: Japan Trip 'Most Important Task' so Far in Office

Noted, from Howard French’s piece today (emphasis mine):

In reality, [Chinese Primier] Wen [Jiabao], too, mostly sticks closely to the script – a fact that he himself revealed in an unusually candid discussion of his preparation for the Japan trip. “This is the most important task since I took office,” he told an audience of Chinese residents in Japan. “I did a lot of preparation. Every sentence is written by myself, and I did all the research work myself.

“Why? Because I feel our nation’s development has reached a critical moment. We need to have a peaceful and conducive international environment.”

Asahi: Stating the Obvious With a Little Attitude

The English version of the Asahi Shimbun article about the U.S. action against China in the WTO over intellectual property has a pretty obvious headline: “WTO complaints against China put Japan in a bind.” It addresses the fact that the U.S. government asked Japan to join the action (and they haven’t decided yet as far as I’ve seen), and how that’s kind of awkward when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is in Tokyo for a “thawing” visit.

But the final two paragraphs seem to make a point of sticking it to China more than the United States:

Honda Motor Co., for example, has won a suit against a Chinese company that made “Hongda” motorcycles. In the 10 years ending in January, Chinese authorities acted on about 2,000 cases of intellectual property rights violations involving Honda products and technology.

Meanwhile, Chinese vendors sell batteries labeled “Sqny” (not Sony Corp.) and pirated versions of Japanese anime DVDs.