Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Apology

Yesterday the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, gave a speech on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender to the Allies, which brought an end to the Second World War. Whilst re-iterating the expressions of remorse for the harm caused by the war which Japan launched on Asia, and expressing the view that Japan had advanced along the road to war and been a challenger to the international order, the speech made no new form of apology, which has led to renewed criticism of Japan's leadership for being insufficiently contrite about the war from Japan's Asian neighbours.

Personally, I do not at all believe that there is any form of apology that Shinzo Abe could have given that would fully mollify the South Koreans and Chinese. The South Koreans at least recognised that a deeper apology was given by former Prime Minister Murayama and asked why he did not repeat this as Junichiro Koizumi did in 2005, though their response at the time Murayama and Koizumi made their apologies did not seem to recognise them as full apologies either. The Chinese, on the other hand, seem not to recognise that any real apology of any kind has ever been made by Japan's leaders.

The reasons for this have little to do with lasting memories of Japanese war crimes and crimes against humanity in the years between 1931 and 1945, which were numerous and terrible. This can be stated with confidence simply because in the decades immediately following the war criticism of Japan for being insufficiently contrite was so much more muted, both from China and Korea. For example, the document that established relations between the People's Republic of China and Japan dealt with war-guilt in only two places. Here:

"The Japanese side is keenly aware of Japan's responsibility for causing enormous damages in the past to the Chinese people through war and deeply reproaches itself . . . The Chinese side welcomes this"
And here:

"The Government of the People's Republic of China declares that in the interest of friendship between the peoples of China and Japan, it renounces its demand for war indemnities from Japan"

The statement felt no need to note insufficient contrition on the part of the Japanese, nor was this expressed by any of the officials responsible for re-establishing relations on the Chinese side either. Such misgivings, if they existed, had clearly be shelved for later generations to address. China at that time was supportive of various Japanese initiatives, including their resumption of sovereignty over Okinawa, despite later claims from people like (PLA General) Luo Yuan within China that Okinawa really belongs to them.

In Chinese affairs the change from a broadly-friendly position towards Japan to one suspicious towards Japan came later. Whilst Taiwan under the ROC, and to a less extent Hong Kong, saw protests about the 1972 transfer of administrative rights over the Senkaku Islands, these were not echoed in mainland China. Instead it was with the decline in communist ideology in mainland China and its replacement with nationalist rhetoric that differences with Japan and the war became an endless source of material to inspire such sentiment amongst young people through the education system and the media.

That this was so was instantly apparent to anyone who observed the 2005 anti-Japanese protests, sparked by the approval of denialist text-books for use in at most 18 schools in Japan, which were overwhelmingly made up of young people, and for which supporting sentiment was most widely expressed amongst young people. As the sellers of Japanese goods and Japan-themed restaurants tried to protect themselves against attack by displaying Chinese flags and poster-sized pictures of Mao Zedong in their windows, the people who marched outside their doors were overwhelmingly of university age. In Nanjing, where I was working and studying at the time, wide-scale protest was headed off by the authorities after it had outgrown its usefulness by the simple expedient of threatening to expel students who took part.

Whilst the issue of whether Japan's leadership and government has been contrite enough about the war, done enough to educate people as to what actually happened, and done enough to counter those who deny that Japanese war crimes occurred or that Japan was responsible for the war, is a real one. However, it's clear that in the People's Republic at least it is basically a tool for use both in domestic control and in external diplomacy.

In countries which suffered at the hands of that Japanese where the impact of nationalism is less strongly felt, including my own, such things are commonly regarded as of lesser importance than the trade a cultural links with Japan. Whilst the UK did not suffer even nearly as badly as China did at the hands of the Japanese, I heard similar sentiments expressed in Malaysia when I visited there back in 2009, in the Philippines when I visited there in 2003, and from Indonesians I have been acquainted with - all places which suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese.

Abe's speech also contained one very sane statement:
"In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future."
At some point the Second World War will merge into the past and its grievances will have to be set to one side. It is certainly illogical to demand apologies for events that occurred before the people who you are demanding them from were even born. This point is fast approaching, and these demands for apologies cannot be allowed to continue beyond it. The alternative is the idea that it correct to inflict some kind of biblical punishment "unto the third and fourth generation" on the Japanese people.

[Picture: The letter sent to former British inmates of Japanese POW camps by the King welcoming them on their return to the UK] 


justrecently said...

Demanding and getting apologies is frequently a concept of power. A similar pattern of negotiations was visible in the Hainan-EP-3 hostage crisis, where China demanded "an apology" and only got "regret" (if I remember that correctly).

There seem to be different kinds of apologies, depending on which kind of protocol is at work in apology negotiations. In politics, this may frequently matter more than what kind of misconduct, atrocities or worldwide war crimes are the cause.

Gilman Grundy said...

In the end, by demanding that someone give you an apology (which is without real value) you are setting yourself up for a situation in which the people from whom you are demanding it have power over you that they would not otherwise have: to apologise costs nothing.

Ji Xiang said...

You're wrong. Especially in Asia, apologizing costs a lot.

In any case, the refusal of much of Japanese society to recognize what happened is unfortunate, but the truth is that all East Asian societies seem to find it very difficult to ever see their own country as having victimized other nations. Korean, Japanese and Chinese societies all have an extremely flexible relationship with historical truth.

justrecently said...

"... in which the people from whom you are demanding it have power over you that they would not otherwise have"

I agree with Ji Xiang, Foarp. Everything in East Asia is a "garden" - you cultivate it the way you consider it most beautiful (or useful).

Either way, Chinese people know how hard they would find it to apologize for anything. Last time you saw many Chinese ppl "bow their heads", "confess", "apologize", etc. was during the cultural revolution. The whole concept is very different from the West's.

Anonymous said...

what is point of apology when japan dont recognized that they invade other nation?
They only express regret for "damage and harm caused by them.
They continue to deny comfort women , nanking massacre and other massacre ,japan brutality, worshiping of war criminal.

Their apology do not carry any responsibilities.

Southeast Asian dont suffered as much as China and Korea in Japan aggression and brutality.

because they surrender to japan.

Japan invade them on the basis that they are liberating them from western Oppressor.

Japan only occupied the southeast for short period of time
but they had commit many massacre against ethnic Chinese and some local native fighter.

UK itself an imperialist and aggressor in the region.

Do Uk had any right to claim itself as victim of japan aggression?

Let me give a simple analogy

Why is that Westerner whine so much about terrorism happen in their own nation?
Why is that US whine so much about 911 attack ? why is that Uk whine so much about London bombing?

When Iraq and afghan has much more casualties than your western nation, they gladly move forward and live with it.

Is this related to western Nationalism???? because ideology of democracy is dying .

you had display their hypocrisy.

What is your opinion about Vietnamese anti Chinese sentiment ?

Is this related to rising nationalism played up by vietnamese Govt, media?

Chinese domination of vietnamese happen in 2th-10th century ago.
While japan imperialism, invasion, brutality happen in 19th century.

Why doesn't CCP use UK as scapegoat for their rising nationalism ? Why japan?

You are parroting typical western propaganda that anti japanese are tool of CCP to replace dying communist ideology. LOL

how many chinese people actually believe in communist ideology under mao regime?

Nationalism does not exist during MAo regime , before Mao regime?

I dont think that You have any credibility to say that southeast asian nation had complained less about japan invasion than china or korea does.

you are not even victim.

you dont even know the history of each nation who had suffered from japan invasion.

Why do British people think that Napoleon or Waterloo as " significant part of their history?

Other nation dont talk much about them.

China and Korea had suffered the most from japan occupation, invasion, brutality for longest period of time.

because chinese people put up resistance against japan invasion.

Chinese did not ask japan for apology

Chinese ask japan to repent and recognize those past mistake.

What is point of japan apology if they deny past aggression, brutality and invasion and continue to worship war criminal?

British continue to occupy Falkland island despite it dont belongs to them.

British could give fake apology to Argentina .
At the same time, british dont have intention to return those island back to original owner

Does such apology really an apology? This is how japan behave on the issue of WW2.

You are trying to portray Chinese are" unreasonable" in their attitude to seek apology from japan.

Korean are not ruled by CCP.
Korean had display more tougher attitude against Japan

You basically ignore the mainstream viewpoint of Korean people (hate japanese than north korea)

Instead, you try to cite the viewpoint of Korean govt
( when there are many reason for such low key approach due to US relationship)

Gilman Grundy said...

Well, that was pretty rant-tastic.