German-Japanese comparisons and Sino-Japanese tensions
Paul Welsh (Presenter, BBC World Service) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
Paul Welsh: Almost sixty years after the Second World War ended, its effects are still being felt between Japan and its neighbours. Yet German has healed old wounds with the rest of Europe. What is the difference? German and Japan seem worlds apart, why?
Sean Curtin: There are many different ways and levels to look at this particular issue. In the light of the current tensions between Japan and China there are three main areas which are prominent if a comparison is made between Japan and Germany.
Firstly, the way Japan has apologized for the war. Secondly, the way Japanese politicians talk about and commemorate the war. Thirdly, the way the history of the war is taught in Japanese schools.
Paul Welsh: When you say the way Japan has apologized for the war, you mean the way it hasn't apologized for the war?
Sean Curtin: If we take a direct example here. I think almost everyone can remember that dramatic moment in December 1970 when the then German Chancellor Willy Brandt got down in front of the Warsaw Ghetto memorial and basically begged on behalf of the German people for forgiveness and made a very deep and heartfelt apology. That was a very moving and symbolic action.
There has never been an equivalent episode between Japan and China. No Japanese leading political figure has ever made such a dramatic gesture. The nearest we have come to a powerful apology was in 1995 when the then Socialist Prime Minister, Tomiichi Murayama, gave a fairly comprehensive apology to China to mark the 50th anniversary of the war. However, his comments were heavily criticized at the time by prominent rightwing figures in the most powerful Japanese political party the LDP.
Paul Welsh: Why is it still like this after so long? What do they need to do to placate the likes of China?
Sean Curtin: I think China has been consistently repeating the same message for the last few years, certain since the current Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, took office in April 2001. Their basic message is that Japan must reflect about what happened during the war and think about Chinese sensitivities regarding the war.
As far as China is concerned, what Prime Minister Koizumi has been doing wrong is visiting what it sees as a war-tainted shrine, called the Yasukuni Shrine, which is located in Tokyo. It is mainly dedicated to Japanese war dead, but it also honours 14 Class A war criminals, including the leader of the war General Hideki Tojo, all of whom are deified there. Every time Koizumi pays his respects at this shrine there is uproar in China.
The Chinese say these visits are the similar to a German Chancellor going to a Nazi war memorial. How would Israel feel? That they say is how China feels.
Paul Welsh: The situation is aggravated no doubt by the fact that China is the traditional big power in the region, and after a period of not being the big power in the region it is now on its way back up politically, economically and militarily.
Sean Curtin: Yes, that is a good analysis. I think China now feels that it is in a position to be able flex its political muscles and to make its strong sentiments about the war clearly heard.
The main difference between the present situation and those in the past, before Prime Minister Koizumi came to power, is that previously when there was tension over war-related issues Japan would tend to bend and apologize or at least make conciliatory gestures towards China. Under the Koizumi administration that has not happened and he has just basically pursued the nationalist course he feels suits his agenda. This has come as somewhat of a shock to China and they have reacted angrily to this new stance. As you pointed out, they are a coming economic and military power and they are demanding that Japan treats them with more respect.
The above discussion was originally broadcast on the BBC World Service as part of its Newshour programme on 13th April 2005.