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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:58 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #158: April 28, 2005

A Meeting at Bandung That Could Have Changed the Future of Japan-China Relations

John de Boer (Japan Fellow, Stanford University; Research Associate, GLOCOM)

When Japan received its invitation to attend the First Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955, the country was in the midst of pushing for at least a semblance of "independence" from the US in its foreign policy. Prime Minister Hatoyama had come to power in December 1954 pledging to differentiate himself from his predecessor Yoshida, who came to be regarded as a US stooge in Japan. There was good reason in Japan at that time to seek some distance from the US. In March 1954, Japanese fisherman had been killed as a result of US nuclear testing in the Bikini Islands. This incident, combined with crimes perpetrated by US military personnel stationed in Japan, led to widespread animosity toward the US's heavy handed presence in Japan. The death of Stalin and calls from the Soviet Union and Communist China for peaceful relations and trade with Japan also promoted a vision for a Japan that was not simply a military outpost in the Far East for the Americans. In many ways, Bandung provided the opportunity for Prime Minister Hatoyama to establish himself as a leader who took steps toward promoting an image of sovereignty in Japan. Adopted was a discourse that stressed an independent approach to foreign policy and sought rapprochement with countries in East and Southeast Asia.

Upon receiving the invitation to Bandung, Hatoyama's government consulted with the US embassy and notified the Americans of Japan's wish to participate. The only order Hatoyama received from his US counterparts was not to develop closer relations with the Peoples Republic of China. In contrast, Communist China's leader, Chou En-Lai attended the conference insisting on the point that he was seeking common ground with other countries in Asia, including Japan. "The Chinese Delegation has come here to seek amity, not to quarrel," stated Chou in his opening address. Presented to the Japanese government, thus, was an opportunity to push for peaceful relations, promote trade with China and potentially change the course of history.

Despite the PRC's positive outlook and Hatoyama's rhetoric, Tatsunosuke Takasaki, the leader of Japan's delegation to the Afro-Asian Conference (also served as Minister without portfolio in the Hatoyama Cabinet), however, was under strict orders not to enter into negotiations with China. Although a short meeting was held, this was informal and in a private capacity.

Takasaki's actions following the Bandung Conference, however, revealed a personal mission dedicated to improving relations with China. He first apologized for crimes committed by Japan during its colonization of China and then sought to revive his/Japan's economic interests in the mainland.

Takasaki was a leading industrialist and had been very involved in Japan's colonization of Manchuria as the President of the Manchurian Heavy Industries Company. After Japan's defeat in the war, however, he joined the so-called "Japan's Friends of China" club and according to Harold M. Vinacke, in the last years of his life Takasaki devoted himself to making expiation for the wrongs done China before and during the war by working to improve the position of mainland China in the world (Pacific Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1965), 14). Takasaki had his own personal motives for improving ties with China, he was interested in reviving and further developing his business concerns and was not alone in this. Many other right wing and mainstream businessmen and politicians in Japan harbored these intentions.

Takasaki and Chou eventually established a relatively close relationship with Chou sending a message of condolence upon Takasaki's death in 1964. In many ways it is puzzling that Chou En-Lai would befriend a man heavily involved in Japan's colonial policies, which exploited and oppressed millions of Chinese. However, apart from the Cold War's political context in which their relationship developed, their friendship may also be representative of the fact that rapprochement between two staunch enemies is possible as long as wrongs are acknowledged. Clearly, more research is needed to uncover the exact relationship that Chou and Takasaki had, however, there may be something there that is instructive for our leaders today who have been unable to resolve outstanding questions that have plagued China-Japan relations for over half a century.

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