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Japan Diary

January 17, 2015

Why in Asia the World War Ⅱ Still Matters So Much? --On the 70th Anniversary of Its End--

While the world is preoccupied with Ukraine and the Islam, a new feud is budding in East Asia: the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan. China is preparing a grandiose commemorative ceremony on Sep. 3(one day after Japan finalized its capitulation to the U.S.) in Beijing, inviting Russia's President Vladimir Putin and other dignitaries.

Russia is planning a similar pageant on May 9 (the day when Germany signed the capitulation document) in Moscow, but in general Russia has ceased to pester Germany with war crimes, and treats May 9 as a holiday to celebrate peace.

Things are different in Asia. China keeps reminding Japan of its war responsibility, and its rhetoric seems to become even more intense. South Korea (and potentially North Korea) joins in "punishment of Japan" in order to vent its enmity over its erstwhile subjugation to Japan.

Such a heavy emotional charge 70 years after a war is a rare case in the world history. Some people say that it is because Japan has not properly apologized and has not paid compensation, covering up its sins and trying to justify its past aggression. But the thing is that Japan has officially accepted the very severe punishment for its aggression --- in the San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951 Japan recognized the verdicts by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which sentenced 7 Japanese politicians and officials to death for the war crime (all over Asia about one thousand Japanese military and civilians were executed). As regards the war compensation, the Allied Powers (the U.S., Great Britain, France etc.) waived all reparations claims to Japan (Article 14, San Francisco Peace Treaty in 1951), while assets of the Japanese in occupied areas were subjected to confiscation by local authorities.

Japan's Emperor Hirohito thereafter expressed sincere regret for the war in several occasions, Japan's prime ministers also have expressed regret many times[1]. The compensation issue was settled in bilateral peace treaties between Japan and other Asian countries, which had not signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty. For example China abstained from demanding war compensation in the Joint Communique with Japan in 1972, when both agreed to reestablish diplomatic relations. One has to note that after the war Japan had its properties and assets left in China confiscated, the value of which was equivalent to ten years of Japanese state budget at that time.

When Japan and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1965, Japan agreed to pay 1.1 billion dollars to South Korea, and it was meant, though officially not admitted, as reparation for the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 (Japan considers it to be voluntary, but South Korea regards it to be forcible). The amount was three times as large as South Korea's state budget at that time. And on top of that Japan had left assets and properties in South Korea, which was equivalent to two thirds of the South Korea's state budget at that time.

Japan thereafter engaged in active infrastructure building in China, lending 50 billion dollars of low-interest rate long term credits. The ports, highways, steel mill, railways, tele-communication lines, power plants and etc., which were built with these loans, later worked as catalyzer for foreign direct investments to China.

Japan's soft loans also did a positive work in South Korea. About 6 billion dollars of soft loans were used for construction of railway, highway, tele-communication lines, hydroelectric dams, steel mill, Seoul subway and others. Japanese companies built factories in South Korea, and Japanese engineers brought cutting-edge technologies to the South Korean companies. In order to mitigate the spiritual pains of the Korean women, who had to work in Japanese military brothels, Japan launched a special foundation, collecting donations from the Japanese. The donated money was commissioned to the South Korean government[2].

If things are like this, why does the issue of Japan's war crime still linger and become even more acute? People's emotion plays a vital role, but politics also plays its own role.

If you compare the situation in Europe and East Asia, you will better understand it. In Europe a status quo was established with the Helsinki Agreement in 1975, in which all European countries pledged not to attempt to change the border lines by forcible means. But today's East Asia is undergoing a reshuffling of order, in which China and South Korea with their newly gained economic power demand a new deal, in which Japan should be given a morally inferior status with its sins in the war. The thing is that the people in China and South Korea are accustomed to the old Confucian idea of seniority among countries rather than to the modern concept of equality of sovereign states. To them Japan should be destined to a permanent junior position; "Japan took advantage of the Cold War to become a U.S. bastion in Asia and to become the second largest economy in the world. That is a fluke."--that may be their thinking.

What is more, for China the victory over Japan serves as a raison d'etre of the Communist Party; by reminding the people of the war against the Japanese the Communist Party always can rally the people around itself.

Surrounded by enmities, however, the majority of the Japanese are moderate; they feel sorry that Japan inflicted disaster upon the Korean and Chinese people, but they believe that Japan has been trying very much to compensate for that sin. The Japanese get bewildered when China and South Korea still play up the issue of Japan's sins, and some Japanese even become furious. And the latter makes some Americans fear that the Japanese jingoism may draw the U.S. into an unsolicited war with China. This is an excessive anxiety. For the majority of the Japanese economic growth is the greatest concern; jingoistic candidates rarely get elected to state or municipal posts.

Some Americans are suspicious of Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; "He is so nationalistic that he may one day abrogate the alliance with the U.S. ". This is a stereotype thinking, because he is well aware of the limits and bounds for Japan, though he surely strives for a more dignified position for Japan vis-à-vis the U.S. Mr. Abe knows that it is Japan which fully took advantage of the postwar global free trade under the auspices of the U.S. The Japanese today enjoy a high degree of freedom and democracy with its security ensured by the alliance with the U.S. The U.S. armed forces stationed in the region deter China from adventurous acts on the disputed Senkaku Islands.

Japan not only takes advantage of the postwar world system, but it itself has also become one of the lynchpins for the maintenance of that system (in the same vein Japan is also a very important balance factor in U.S. relations with China). Japan has long been a provider of official development aid, and Japanese companies have built many factories in the entire East Asia, which created numerous good-salaried jobs and contributed to formulation of sound middle class. Japan, therefore, is positively accepted by the ASEAN countries in spite of the war-time occupation by Japan, and the Japanese pop culture, embodiment of open and free society, is widely welcomed by people in East Asia, even in China.

And the relations between Japan, China and South Korea are not all about sheer confrontation. About one million Chinese now study or work in Japan (large and even medium-sized Japanese companies hire Chinese as liaison with China), whereas the Japanese companies and factories in China provide about ten million jobs to the Chinese. Japan has become a favorite destination of Chinese and Korean tourists (in 2014 about two million each came to Japan), Japan's pop culture is loved by the Chinese youth, and many Japanese are fascinated by South Korean pop culture (at least a few years ago). Industrial products assembled in Japanese factories in China count for more than 10 per cent of the Chinese total exports, and Japanese and South Korean companies are engaging not only in fierce competition but also in deep collaboration.

Japan, East Asia, the U.S. and the EU used to prosper in an economic symbiosis; Japan, the U.S. and the EU provided capital and technology to the East Asian countries, products assembled in Asia were exported to Japan, the U.S. and the EU, dollars and euros were paid to East Asian countries only to be reinvested in the U.S. and the EU. As long as East Asian countries (including China) were content with this scheme of co-prospering and did not dare to change the political status quo, every country was happy. This cozy scheme was disrupted by the Lehman Brothers crisis, and China and Russia started taking advantage of the U.S. temporary weakness to realize their political and economic claims.

Now the U.S. economy is in upswing. This may make China less jingoistic in its own behavior. So, even when China plays up the "70th anniversary of the victory over Japan", just let them go alone. Emotion will not get out of control. The important thing for the U.S. is not to take side and not to force Japan to hastily succumb to the demands of its East Asian colleagues. Some demands are morally justifiable, but when they are politically motivated, Japan's compromise will not solve the situation. It will only incur new demands to Japan.

Japan will do everything not to be provoked by Chinese moves. The Chinese government will not let the anti-Japanese movement get out of control, either. Japan will appeal for a forward-looking approach: global cooperation in maintaining peace and in building fair and well-off societies, a sine qua non for building democracy and sound economy.

This is all about the relations between Japan and East Asia. But what about the implication of the war anniversary for Japan and the U.S.? ......This needs another round of discussion (but less urgent than for East Asia, anyway).


[1] http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/q_a/faq16.html#q2

[2] But many of the women refused to take the money, continuing their demand that the Japanese government should pay the official money to them with official apology.


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