Shinzō Abe’s statement on the 70th anniversary of the end of the Pacific War as well as the closely related topic of the failed visit of the Japanese prime minister to China to celebrate the very same occasion, continue to attract attention both domestically and abroad.
In Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, its minor parliamentary coalition partner New Komeito, and the non-coalition far-right Japan Innovation Party all showed their full support for their Prime Minister. Meanwhile, there has been a split in opinion in the opposition camp on this issue.
Just as in the 1950s (also on a similar occasion) it was only the increasingly popular Communist Party that spoke out with deep criticism of S. Abe’s statement. Its parliamentary representatives announce that the document lacks “subjectivity”, referring to passages in it on the general theme of “aggression”, “colonialism” and “deep remorse and apology“.
Meanwhile it seems that members of parliament from the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan are attempting to avoid any specific assessment of Abe’s statement. They appear to be taking into account the fact that almost half the population has a negative opinion about the neighbouring countries’ demands for Japan to express its “sincere repentance” and “apologies” for its army’s behaviour during the war in the Pacific.
As for foreign assessments, of particular interest are opinions of Japan’s closest neighbours, China and South Korea, that lodge the most serious grievances against Japan’s behaviour in the first half of the last century. And there have been no direct official responses to the statement.
However, the results of a survey conducted among political scientists and journalists in China, South Korea and Japan itself, who specialise in regional politics, from 18 to 22 August (a week after Abe’s statement) by the non-profit independent organization Genron NPO shed some light on the matter.
They show that 83% of the South Koreans and 57% of the Chinese surveyed held an overall negative assessment of Abe’s statement. Only 5.7% of South Koreans and 21.4% of Chinese agreed with the main points in the speech.
As for the Japanese, half of them believe that the Prime Minister’s speech will in no way affect the current relations between Japan and its neighbours. The remaining half were split down the middle in response to the question of its positive or negative influence on the relations.
It is highly likely that the results of these surveys adequately reflect the (generally negative) public sentiment in China and the Republic of Korea regarding not only the past but also the present day Japan. Which definitely limits the role of political viability in the policies of the first two regarding Japan.
This, in turn, is fraught with the addition of irrationality and the emotions that are always present in the public mood in the (already difficult) situation in North-east Asia (NEA).
Given the negative assessment by China’s society of Abe’s speech on the occasion, on which the celebrations are planned in Beijing, the Chinese leadership apparently considered it inappropriate to invite the Japanese prime minister to them.
It was also reported that in the course of negotiations, the preliminary conditions of S Abe’s visit to Beijing had been raised by the Japanese party as well. Citing a source “pertaining to Japan-China relations,” the leading Japanese newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, believes that Abe most likely decided to abandon the plans, after not receiving a satisfactory response to his demand to “tone down the anti-Japanese sentiment” of the upcoming celebrations in China.
It is also argued that, by refusing to participate in the festivities in China, the Japanese Prime Minister has thus joined a group of leaders of the leading Western countries, who had denied an invitation to Beijing prior to that on the grounds of the “development of military capability and activities on the seas” by the latter.
The recent conflicts between Japan and China about the content of the Japanese Prime Minister’s speech on the events of 70 years ago and about his possible presence at the Beijing celebrations are motivated not only (or rather, not so much) by such abstract concepts as “historical justice” and “morality”. Obviously, they affect important aspects of the current policy.
It is no coincidence that status of Taiwan, a topic we have discussed in previous articles, surfaced during the flare-up of “historical” issues in Japan-China relations. In particular, attention was drawn to the fundamental difference between the Taiwan and South Korea’s attitudes to their periods as Japanese colonies.
In Taiwan, there are generally more positive assessments of this period and the most authoritative expression of such sentiments comes from the 92-year-old former Taiwanese President (1988 to 2000), Lee Teng-hui. We have previously noted that during a recent private tour of Japan, he said a lot of things that are very unpleasant to hear for Beijing.
However, after returning home, Taiwan’s master politician confirmed all the statements made in the course of the tour. Particularly how he is proud of the years he served in the Japanese Army.
From Beijing’s point of view, the most outrageous thing is that Lee Teng-hui said this on the eve of the aforementioned celebration in China, and at a meeting with leaders of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party. Among whom was the likely future president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, who did not even consider it necessary to comment in some way on the master’s words.
In general, it should be noted that, no matter which one of the leaders of the two leading Asian powers decided to “hit the brakes” at the last minute on the way to a bilateral summit (it’s most likely they acted in parallel), it was another confirmation of troubling situation in North-East Asia.
Although a meeting between the leaders of China and Japan on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of one of the bloodiest wars between them could serve in itself as a damper to the new rise of mutual hostility.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific Region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.