China sees chance of Japanese remorse
By Jian Junbo
AALBORG, Denmark - With the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) becoming Japan's
ruling party after its landslide victory in the just-concluded general
elections, a number of analysts and experts in China expect the two countries
to move closer.
The DPJ, which won 308 seats in the Lower House to the Liberal Democratic
Party's (LDP's) 119 on Sunday, has always been friendlier towards China than
However, a position a party takes when it is in opposition is one matter - what
it does when it takes power is another.
China's leaders, as well as many ordinary Chinese, have long maintained that a
major obstacle to better Sino-Japanese ties is
how the Japanese government views the facts of Japan's invasion of China and
other Asian counties in the World War II-era.
From China's perspective, the Japanese government under the LDP's virtually
continuous rule since World War II has never shown sincerity in this regard.
For example, Toshio Tamogami, a former Air Self-Defense Force chief of staff in
the LDP government, once said that Japan's war in East Asia over the first half
of the last century was a "campaign of racial liberation from white rule, which
is seen 'positively' by many countries".
The comment is difficult to take seriously, yet this view of history is popular
among Japan's right-wing and its conservatives, who often beautify Japan's
invasion of its Asian neighboring countries in the 20th century. And this
right-wing thinking appears on the rise - a recently published book outlining
Tamogami's version of history has sold over 100,000 copies.
An article written by him last year, titled "Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?"
was submitted to the Apa Group (a Japanese corporation which is run by a
right-wing owner) for a composition competition in October of last year - it
won first prize. The article was then published as a book titled Japan Is Not an
Aggressor, in December of 2008. It appears the publication has
attracted quite a few Japanese readers. (See
Japanese general hoisted by own canards, Asia Times Online, November
The government took no action to stop the publication of the book, although
Tamogami was dismissed as chief of air staff.
More than 60 years after the end of World War II, Japan has yet to give a
formal apology to the countries it invaded or their peoples.
Famous Italian political philosopher in the Middle Ages, Niccolo Machiavelli,
in his best-known masterpiece The Prince, said that as long as the
purpose was correct, one could do anything. That is, the end justifies the
means. Machiavelli's teaching was an infallible law for rulers in pre-modern
times. Nevertheless, this obsolete theory does not hold in the modern age.
States cannot allow individuals or groups to take a nefarious approach toward
realizing an aim, however lofty or great it may look. Goodwill resulting in a
bad result can never be used as a legitimate excuse for a person to justify
what he or she has done to escape due punishment. This is common sense and
applies to international relations, in that no country should unlawfully use
violence against another out of its "goodwill".
In consideration of this, it is surprising that some Japanese have accepted the
theory of the end justifying the means, and use it to justify the Japanese
invasion of China, Korea and other Asian countries. If China today occupied
Okinawa with "goodwill", would Japan accept it?
Yet, 140 years since the the Meiji reforms (the beginning of Japan's
modernization started in 1868) some people in Japan believe that if Japan aimed
to improve East Asia, then what it did in the 1930s was good and legitimate.
From a Chinese perspective, Tamogami and his supporters and followers should
understand that, in the first place, neither the Chinese government nor the
Chinese people invited or requested Japanese troops to occupy their motherland
from 1931 to 1945.
Maybe the would-be "Manchurian empire" welcomed the Japanese invasion of
northeast China, but everybody knows the emperor, Aisin-Gioro Puyi, was a
puppet of Japanese militarists. What really represented China's "welcome" of
the Japanese invasion was the then-Republic of China's president Chiang
Kai-shek's formal declaration of war against Japan, and the Chinese people
fighting the invaders.
In reality, when the Japanese military entered China's inland in the 1930s - at
a time Japan still controlled Taiwan as its colony, it having been taken from
China in 1895 - European colonists were already retreating from China, except
for Hong Kong, which remained occupied by Britain, and Macau controlled by
Tamogami uses the term "racial liberation from white rule". But how can a war
started by Japan that lasted eight years and saw some 20 million Chinese die be
called "liberation"? The reality was that before the Chinese could be
"liberated" from white rule, they had to be ruled by the Japanese until 1945.
Tamogami and his followers should understand the distinction between a
historical fact and a historical opinion.
It's not strange for a nation to reconstruct its history based on some typical
ideas of its own. British scholar Benedict Anderson argued that a nation is an
"imagined community". In reality, every nation and state has the right to
reconstruct its history and identity based on its own ideas. Different nations
and states often have different explanations of the same historical incident
that conflict with one another.
Japan has the right to reconstruct its national identity and history. But it
cannot change historical facts when explaining Sino-Japan relations in the
1930s and 1940s. Tamogami claimed the war started by Japan in Asia was seen
"positively" by many countries. Is this a fact?
For China, the fact is that during the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, Japan
invaded China, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 9.1 million Chinese
civilians, the rape of thousands of Chinese women and the theft of Chinese
treasures - the suffering lasts to this day.
Clearly, Tamogami and his supporters don't acknowledge these facts.
It would be better for all East Asian countries, including Japan, to look
forward, and not become involved in a complicated historical labyrinth. At the
same time, each country cannot totally cut its links between today and the
past, and Japan is no exception. But Japan would do better to face historical
issues more bravely, frankly and sincerely, as Germany has done.
With Yukio Hatoyama poised to become the next Japanese premier, he and his
Democratic Party of Japan have an opportunity to do this after so many years of
LDP rule that failed to tackle the issue.
Dr Jian Junbo, assistant professor of the Institute of International
Studies at Fudan University, Shanghai, China, is currently a visiting scholar
of Department of History, International and Social Studies, Aalborg University,