[VIEWPOINT]Japan’s hackles are on the riseFor the first time in living memory, a Japanese leader has demanded that China apologize for anti-Japanese vandalism that has raged through several Chinese cities, including throwing rocks at the Japanese Embassy in Beijing while police looked on.
The challenge from Tokyo was yet more evidence of Japan’s emergence from the passive and pacifist cocoon in which it had wrapped itself since its crushing defeat in World War II sixty years ago. Since then, Japan has almost always taken what the Japanese call low posture in its dealings with China and other Asian nations that it invaded during the days that militarists dominated in Tokyo.
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura summoned Chinese Ambassador Wang Yi last Sunday to lodge the protest, telling the press afterward; “We formally demanded China’s apology and compensation.”
The New York Times reported that Wang had not apologized. Press reports from Beijing said Chinese authorities were indignant at the Japanese demand and contended that the Japanese brought the criticism and outbursts on themselves.
Until now, Japan has responded to such confrontations with a public wringing of hands, a symbolic bow from the waist and a muted expression of regret. Mainly, the Japanese have hoped that the issue at hand would be resolved by having it fade away with the passage of time.
Over the years, the failure of the Japanese to stand up and assert themselves has caused China and South Korea, which has been moving to align itself with China, to become all the more aggressive in their attitude and posture toward Japan.
In addition, Japanese governments have been reluctant to publicize their expressions of regret for the pain and suffering caused by Japanese militarists from 1930 to 1945.
Nor have the Japanese sought to take credit for the substantial economic aid they have rendered to China and other Asian nations.
It remains to be seen whether Machimura’s new posture will be sustained. If it is, that could most likely be attributed to a generational change in Japan.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Foreign Minister Machimura and many other Japanese political leaders make up a true postwar generation of Japanese who have no personal memory of World War II.
Japanese in this generation appear to feel less obligated to take a low posture toward other Asians. Another leader, Shinzo Abe, of the Liberal Democratic Party, took a position on a TV program last Sunday that would have been unthinkable five years ago, pointing to anger over internal Chinese problems as causing the outbursts against Japan.
“Japan is an outlet to vent that anger,” Abe was quoted in The New York Times. “Because of the anti-Japanese education there, it’s easy to light the fire of these demonstrations and, because of the Internet, it’s easy to assemble a lot of people.”
China’s rulers have been using the anti-Japanese eruptions, which could have occurred only with government approval in China, to divert attention from issues such as widespread unemployment and under-employment.
About 40 percent of the Chinese labor force is either out of work or working only enough to get by. About 125 million people in China, a group as large as the population of Japan, have been reported to be in motion every day looking for work. Peasants have repeatedly rioted in rural areas.
Among the immediate issues that have stirred anti-Japanese demonstrations, which included charging into department stores to sweep Japanese goods off the shelves, has been Tokyo’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council along with the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.
Beijing has been determined to block that bid and underscored its opposition to Japan’s appeal this week by endorsing India’s effort to become a permanent member. Brazil and Germany have also sought such membership.
Beijing has vigorously objected to the recent “Common Strategic Objectives” set out by the United States and Japan. That agreement includes Japan’s assurance that it will help defend the island of Taiwan if China seeks to conquer it by force.
Japan took control of Taiwan after the Sino-Japanese war of 1895. After World War II, Japan renounced sovereignty over Taiwan but did not determine to whom sovereignty passed, contending that was for the victorious allied nations to decide.
Beijing, which asserts that Taiwan belongs to China, has long demanded that Japan recognize China’s claim to Taiwan.
But Japan has refused to comply, which once caused the late premier of China, Zhou Enlai, to tell a senior Japanese diplomat; “You are nothing but a legal bandit.”
* The writer is a former Tokyo correspondent of The New York Times.
by Richard Halloran