Japan reopens China’s wounds
Few wounds take so long to heal. But the defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, which broke out 120 years ago today, remains an open wound in Chinese national psyche.
Not because it hurt us too badly. The subsequent unequal Treaty of Shimonoseki, fittingly portrayed as “humiliating the country and forfeiting its sovereignty”, has since been a hallmark of national shame. But the Japanese imposed on us greater shame and sufferings in the decades that followed.
Nor because we are a nation of grudge-holders. We have befriended posterity of Western intruders responsible for our nation’s humiliating past, and are forming partnerships with them. Even to Japan, our worst enemy in history, our leaders always reiterate the wish to let friendship “last from generation to generation”.
But because the same old ghost of expansionist Japan is lurking next door, causing a contagious sense of insecurity throughout the region.
We cannot afford to not be vigilant, because Shinzo Abe’s Japan is strikingly similar to the Japan of 120 years ago. International concerns about the likelihood of history repeating itself in Northeast Asia are not groundless. Because, like in 1894, Japan is again aspiring for “greatness” through expanding its overseas military presence. And its foremost target is, again, China.
It is dangerous to underestimate Japan as a security threat. Which it was, and still is.
The Japanese prime minister’s rhetoric about peace may be engaging. But never forget Japan’s extreme duality. Its wars of aggression have always been launched in the mode of surprise attacks while waving the banner of peace.
In 1871, Japan signed the Sino-Japanese Friendship and Trade Treaty with rulers of China’s Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which promises mutual respect for and non-violation of each other’s territories. Hardly had the ink on that document dried when the Japanese began invading Ryukyu, then a Chinese tributary. The Ryukyu kingdom was finally annexed in 1879 and renamed Okinawa.
On Japan’s agenda of overseas expansion, the 1894 surprise attack against China was a carefully plotted advance to control Korea before slicing China. But the Japanese government eulogized its acts of aggression as those of benevolence aimed at “preserving the overall peace of East Asia” against “barbarians and semi-barbarians”.
The more devastating Japanese war of aggression, embarked in 1931, was also waged in the name of peace, under the pretext of building an “East Asia sphere of common prosperity”.
Even today, Japanese politicians call it a war of “liberation from white colonialism”, even “enlightenment”.
In amazing similarity, present-day Japan is flexing its military muscles overseas in the name of proactive peace. Also like in the run-up to the year of 1894, with peace on lips, Abe is waging a propaganda war against China, framing us as a threat.
This country has suffered enough from its one-sided wish for peace, and poor preparedness for worst scenarios.
Now is time for a break.
Sources: China Daily/Asia News Network
Sea of change in pacifist policy
Japan may have crossed a rubicon as it will only be a matter of time before it acts like a ‘normal’ country where troop deployment is concerned.
ON July 1, the Cabinet of Shinzo Abe decided that Japan would no longer abide by the policy of not engaging in collective self-defence.
This may appear innocuous but to those conversant with Japanese defence policy since World War II (WWII) this could amount to a sea of change.
The Americans, in an attempt to prevent a remilitarised Japan after WWII, imposed on it a constitution which contains Article 9, an article probably found in no other constitution. It states that Japan renounces war as a sovereign right of a nation and cannot resort to force, or the threat of the use of force, to settle international disputes.
The defence of Japan was guaranteed by the United States in a security agreement signed with Japan after the American occupation. Nevertheless, the United States also insisted that Japan take some steps to defend itself.
Thus, Article 9 was not interpreted literally by subsequent governments as excluding Japan from establishing a Self-Defence Force (SDF), but it could not be allowed to participate in collective self-defence. Japan could not send its military force to help any country, however friendly, except for humanitarian purposes.
This approach, perhaps unexpectedly, worked brilliantly for Japan.
Freed of the need to build a large military establishment, Japan devoted its energies to economic development and built what was until recently the second largest economy in the world.
But as the United States began to realise that Japan was the greatest beneficiary of this approach, it applied pressure on Japan to give up this “free ride”, and start deploying troops overseas, especially to aid American military expeditions. The Japanese resisted.
They argued that the SDF could be sent overseas for humanitarian purposes but not for combat as this would involve Japan in collective self-defence, even if only to aid Japan’s crucial ally, the United States. Article 9, as then interpreted, would be violated.
But the Japanese could not resist US pressure for long. Since then the Japanese have sent Japanese vessels to supply fuel for US ships to attack Afghanistan, and troops to Iraq in the war against Saddam Hussein.
But though these troops were placed in combat situations, their presence was justified, however contrived, for humanitarian reasons. They were not there for the purpose of collective self-defence!
This has now changed with the recent Cabinet decision. Despite assurances from the Abe Cabinet that Japan will only use troops after all means have been exhausted, henceforth it can send troops not only to help US forces if attacked but also to the defence of any other country that it might feel an obligation to. Japan may have crossed a rubicon as it will only be a matter of time before it acts like a “normal” country where troop deployment is concerned.
China and South Korea are against it. They fear that this could lead to the remilitarisation of Japan as they believe Japan has not sufficiently come to terms with its past of aggression against Asia.
Many South-East Asian nations, on the other hand, have been impressed by Japan’s peace diplomacy since WWII, and may be less inclined to believe the Japanese will remilitarise. Even though many South-East Asians, particularly those of Chinese descent, suffered from Japanese atrocities, they are more ambivalent about the Japanese war record.
The Japanese occupation in South-East Asia was a military one and lasted only about three-and-a-half years. Compare this to Korea, which was colonised by Japan from 1910 to 1945, when Korean cultural identity was subjected to an eradication campaign by the Japanese colonisers.
Or the Chinese, who since the Sino- Japanese war of 1895 had suffered almost half a century of Japanese threats, colonisation (Manchuria in 1931) and invasion (from 1937-1945.) Memories of Japanese atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre are still vivid in their minds.
South-East Asians are concerned that the history issue, whatever the merits of the case, will continue to prevent reconciliation between Japan and Northeast Asia, in particular China.
Sino-Japanese relations will not stabilise unless that issue is resolved. This will not be good for South-East Asia, given the profound economic and geopolitical impact these two countries have on the region.
There is also some reason for unease in the manner in which Abe implemented the change. Over a matter of such importance, the Abe government should have gone through the procedure of amending or abolishing Article 9 of the constitution, instead of resorting to the tactic of changing governmental interpretation.
It is true that this will be difficult, given that a recent poll shows 56% of the Japanese population are against the Abe move. (A constitutional change needs a two-thirds majority in both houses and a majority in a national referendum.) Nevertheless, it is the task of Abe and his people to convince the Japanese people of the necessity of the constitutional change. If the Japanese people are unconvinced, then Abe should leave things be.
More concerning is that this normalisation is accompanied by a nationalist agenda of visits to the Yasukuni shrine by Japanese legislators and indeed by Abe himself, and by other actions that suggest Japan did no wrong in the war.
Japanese nationalists like Abe argue that they are only praying for the souls of the deceased when they visit the Yasukuni shrine, and they have no wish to resurrect the past.
But there are other aspects of the nationalist agenda the Abe people are pushing which may survive. One is the introduction of patriotic education, that can have a long-lasting effect on the Japanese population.
It can be argued that the Abe move to make Japan a normal country should be welcome. Japan is a large country with a population of around 120 million.
Moreover, it has the third largest economy, and is technologically one of the most advanced in the world. It has also convincingly demonstrated a record of more than 60 years of peaceful diplomacy.
At the same time, many Japanese, particularly the younger generation, no longer want to carry on with the mentality of a defeated nation so long after the war. Nevertheless, it is a pity that their government has to pursue the normalisation of Japan while at the same time pushing a nationalist agenda.
By Dr Lee Poh Ping The Star/Asia News Network
Dr Lee Poh Ping is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of China Studies in the University of Malaya. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
First Japan war’s lessons remain relevant
Today is the 120th anniversary of the eruption of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). The war is generally viewed as a turning point in modern Chinese history. The illusion of a strong navy of the then-Qing government and limited hopes brought by the Self-Strengthening Movement ended with the war’s coming. China not only lost to the West, but also was defeated by an East Asian country—Japan. China’s long-held sense of superiority came to an abrupt end.
The complete defeat in the war, and cession of territories and indemnities brought with it, caused Chinese society to realize that only reform could reverse China’s backwardness. Yet all reform measures failed to save the Qing regime.
The war also completely remade East Asian geopolitics, with Japan assuming a role as the leading country in the region. Only in recent years has this arrangement changed to some extent.
Drawing lessons from the war is not an easy job. Neither China nor Japan has set an example in this. China was convulsed by half a century of war and other disturbances following its defeat, before it gradually found its path forward. Japan became increasingly self-centered and paranoid due to its victory in the war and began to follow an expansionist path. It would only begin to restrain itself following its defeat by other world powers in the World War II.
China’s experiences during the past 120 years are fodder for significant reflection. China and Japan once again find themselves in a confrontational stance. How should we look at China’s geopolitical status, both then and now? What’s the most significant lesson for us? There has been much discussion throughout China on this subject, but no consensus has yet been reached.
Will China find itself in a new war, similar to the one 120 years ago? History will not repeat itself, but China still face a number of uncertainties. What are these uncertainties? From where can the Chinese people derive our strategic confidence?
It is naïve to compare the historical context of the First Sino-Japanese War or World War I with China’s current circumstances. Both international politics and China’s internal social structure have experienced profound changes.
China is rising, even as there are many factors countervailing this process, both internal and external. The momentum of China’s development has empowered the country, while at the same time exposing problems. Opinions remain divided as to whether Chinese society as a whole can bear the pressure.
There are those who would compare the Sino-Japanese relationship of 120 years ago with today. It is a confusing comparison. China 120 years ago lacked national strength, social unity, and effective government. It proved unable to reform itself in the face of serious setbacks.
China’s task of reform was thrown into sharp relief following the First Sino-Japanese War. Even now, the country must continue to push reforms, and curb its social ills.
We should continue to crack down on corruption, and protect the democracy advocated by generations of revolutionaries. All this, however, should not come at the cost of social chaos.
Source: Global Times Published: 2014-7-25 0:28:01
Looking at the Potsdam Declaration 69 years after its release on July 26 in 1945 is of great help in knowing why the Japanese government’s attitude toward the war of aggression it launched against China and other Asian countries during World War II matters a great deal to its relations with its neighbors and the situation in East Asia.
Along with Cairo Declaration in 1943, this historical document was the cornerstone of the postwar world order. It was these two documents that established the principles for Japan, one of the culprits for World War II, to redeem itself from the evils of its militarism. And it was by following what both documents stipulated that Japan could realize reconciliation with its neighbors, which had forgiven what its invading troops had done to their peoples with the hope that the island country would behave itself and contribute to the building of a peaceful Asia and peaceful world at large.
However, the declaration was challenged when the Japanese government made the decision to nationalize the Diaoyu Islands in 2012, territory it had grabbed from China with its military aggression. Japan was supposed to return all the territories it had taken from China according to Cairo Declaration, and the Potsdam Declaration requires that the Cairo Declaration must be observed.
By blatantly questioning the international definition of the nature of the war, the legitimacy of the Far East Military Tribunal and even the existence of the “comfort women” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is actually trying to overturn what the two declarations had stipulated for Japan’s surrender and the establishment of the postwar order.
Abe government’s lifting of the ban on its collective self-defense by reinterpreting Article 9 of its postwar pacifist Constitution early this month trod on the toes of its neighbors, as there is no threat to Japan’s national security that calls for the possible use of its collective self-defense and for any overseas military action.
All Japan’s Asian neighbors can get from what Abe is saying and doing is nothing but increased suspicion about the possibility of the revival of Japan’s militarism.
When celebrating the 69th anniversary of the Potsdam Declaration, it is indeed necessary and urgent for China and its Asian neighbors to remind the Abe government that it is leading its country in the wrong direction if it indeed wants its country to become a normal member of the international community.