Thursday, 5 February 2015

Banyan: Still fighting

Nguồn tin: nguontinviet.com



AS WARS fade from living memory, time should heal the emotional scars. In Asia, however, it seems only to deepen wounds left by the second world war. The 70th anniversary this year of the conflict’s end is likely to attract more attention than even the 50th or 60th. That would seem to offer a chance to pursue an elusive reconciliation between Japan and the countries that were victims of its aggression in the 20th century. But such countries continue to complain that successive Japanese governments, and notably the one led by Shinzo Abe, the present prime minister, have not done enough to atone and want to rewrite history. Little suggests that reconciliation is on the cards.


For a start, China’s government does not seem in the mood for it. For the first time, it will mark the anniversary of victory over Japan with a big military parade. China Daily, an official newspaper, insists this is not to taunt Japan, and that the government is merely following “international practice” by highlighting China’s important but “underreported” role in the “World Anti-Fascist War”, in which, the paper says, it suffered some 30m casualties.


The insistence rings hollow. The Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy is rooted in part in its role in the resistance to the Japanese occupation (in, as it might also like to recall this year, a united front with the Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang, now in power in Taiwan). In the context of China’s bitter current dispute with Japan over the uninhabited Senkaku islands (Diaoyu in Chinese), which has at times seemed to risk open conflict, it is hard not to see a display of military might in Tiananmen Square as bearing a political message for Japan.


China is also making a point of linking its celebrations to those of Russia, which is staging its own party in May to mark the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. When they met in Beijing in November, their presidents, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, agreed they would attend each other’s celebrations. Intriguingly, Russia also says that Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s young dictator, has agreed to show up in Moscow for what might be his first foreign excursion since taking power three years ago. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan only on August 8th 1945, after Hiroshima was bombed and the Japanese surrender was imminent. Soviet troops then occupied islands—still held by Russia—that Japan claims as its Northern Territories.


As Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported it, the purpose of linking Chinese and Russian commemorations would be jointly to “safeguard the outcome” of the war and the “post-war international order”. That sounds aimed at Mr Abe, who argues that “the biggest issue for Japan is truly escaping the post-war regime”. He means that Japan should become a normal country, not weighed down by guilt at its imperialist past and neutered by a pacifist constitution imposed on it as a result of the war. His right-wing supporters argue that Japan is unfairly singled out. Their forebears were not Nazis; many armies were guilty of atrocities; some of the “victims” were willing collaborators; and apologies, such as Germany’s, are the exception. Even the many Japanese troubled by their country’s past feel that its suffering—at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for example—is forgotten.


It has become expected that the sitting Japanese prime minister will issue a statement about the war to mark each tenth anniversary of Japan’s surrender, which is commemorated in Japan on August 15th. Some of Mr Abe’s advisers hope he will use this to try to bring a close to the endless rows with Japan’s neighbours over history. Indeed, Mr Abe seems to be signalling that his statement will not merely repeat the expressions of remorse offered by his predecessors. Rather he will use his own words to express regret, and concentrate on the model, law-abiding international citizen that Japan has been since.


That might be enough for parts of South-East Asia, where Japanese wartime occupation was a prelude to independence from European colonial powers and where attitudes to Japan are relatively benign. But it is unlikely to satisfy either China or South Korea, where schoolchildren are taught in graphic detail the cruelties of Japanese occupation. Their governments cannot forgive Mr Abe for his visit, in December 2013, to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo where war criminals are among those honoured. And they accuse him of belittling wartime aggression and denigrating women forced by the imperial army into sexual slavery.


This last issue rankles in particular in South Korea, where the numbers of the few dozen surviving wartime “comfort women” brave enough to identify themselves are diminished by death nearly every month. Japan says it settled all its debts to the comfort women in 1965, when the two countries normalised relations. In fact, it has come close at times to agreeing to a further settlement and apology. But, soured by history, relations remain poor. It seems unlikely that the 50th anniversary in June of the normalisation treaty will be marked with more than a token nod.


Bashing Japan, one at a time


In South Korea 1945 is remembered both as the end of Japanese occupation and, more sadly, as the beginning of the peninsula’s division. And so the president, Park Geun-hye, who has put eventual Korean reunification back on the political agenda in the South, is unlikely to want to join in Chinese-led triumphal celebrations: Korea is still waiting for its victory. And, says Hahm Chai-bong, president of the Asan Institute, a think-tank in Seoul: “We don’t need Chinese help in denouncing the Japanese; we do it much better ourselves.”


Nor is Ms Park likely to accept Russia’s invitation to Moscow in May, despite the tantalising prospect of an inter-Korean summit with Mr Kim, whom she has said she is ready to meet. For the Koreas as for China and Japan, anniversaries that might have been a chance to come together in the shared memory of past suffering seem likely to become another reason to drift further apart.





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