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Facing war history (2)

(China Daily)

09:16, October 05, 2012

Burden of history

Japan has been confused about its place in the world since the late 19th century. In an editorial in 1885, Fukuzawa Yukichi urged his nation to "escape from Asia", where he found bad friends. In his hopes for a strong Japan, Fukuzawa promoted the development of Japan's imperialism through military buildup.

Japan began its expansion in East Asia in 1931 with the invasion of Northeast China and continued in 1937 with a brutal attack on other parts of the Chinese mainland. It made a long series of aggressions into Southeast Asia.

Japan was defeated and surrendered in 1945. The Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal prosecuted 28 Class A war criminals, including Toujou Hideki, the former Japanese prime minister and the prime war criminal of Japan, for crimes against peace, conventional war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Out of the 28 Class A war criminals, seven were finally sentenced to death by hanging, including Toujou Hideki; 16 to life in prison; two to imprisonment of 20 and seven years respectively.

In addition to the central Tokyo trial, various tribunals sitting outside Japan judged some 5,000 Japanese guilty of war crimes, of whom more than 900 were executed.

The trials and executions spoke volumes about the brutality Japan inflicted on Asian countries.

Japan has been trying hard to be a normal country since WWII.

After one and a half centuries of efforts to "escape from Asia", former prime minister Hatoyama Yukio wanted to shift Japan's focus from a more America-centric foreign policy to a more Asia-focused policy.

Japan, however, fails to lead Asia as it aspires to. It can't win trust from its neighbors because it is unwilling to do any soul-searching about its past.

Compared with Germany, Japan has allowed a lot of ambiguity to creep into its attitude toward its aggression in WWII.

Take the Yasukuni Shrine, for example, which is dedicated to the soldiers and others who died fighting on behalf of the Emperor of Japan, war criminals are also enshrined there.

This is perceived by East Asian countries as a failure of integrity in Japan - a failure to observe the universal standards of right and wrong.

These countries protest when Japanese officials pay homage to the shrine. But the controversy doesn't bother Japan. More than that, some politicians demonstrate a political attitude by visiting the Yasukuni deliberately.

Without a clearly radical departure from its military past and sincere apology for the aggression, Japan can't find a place in Asia in the way Germany has in Europe.

As its moral ground is shaky, Japan is not likely to play a leading role in the region politically.

Up until now Japan has leeched on to its former enemy, the United States, closely. This is a price Japan has to pay.

Japan has made the Diaoyu Islands issue a mine in the bilateral relations step by step in the past six months. The role the uninhabited islands and islets are playing in China-Japan relations and, more broadly, in East Asia is more than people in the West can imagine.

The Japanese government needs to know that its "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands does not have the legal validity in terms of international law.

Its "nationalization" plan can't bury the dispute.

For Japan and China, these islands and islets are no longer the issue that they can afford to leave for future generations. Now leaders have to set their wits to the dispute with cool-headedness and reason.

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