Home History The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
New Dynamics in Domestic and Regional Politics
While these joint historical research projects were making progress, the LDP decisively lost an election for the House of Representatives in August 2009. In place of the LDP, the DPJ became the largest party in the Diet and formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party (Kokumin Shinto) in September 2009. Overall, the DPJ was less nationalistic than the LDP, partly because many of its founding members came from the JSP, the New Party Sakigake, and Japan New Party—namely, the political parties that had played a key role in increasing cosmopolitanism in Japan’s official commemoration in the early 1990s.89 DPJ members had not only strongly criticized Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine but also actively supported government compensation for former comfort women. In December 1999, for example, the DPJ had published the Draft Bill for Promoting a Resolution of the Problem of Victims ofWartime Forced Sex (Senji Seiteki Kyosei Higaisha Mondai no Kaiketsu no Sokushin ni Kansuru Horitsuan). This draft bill had held the Japanese government responsible for providing former comfort women with apologies and compensation to “restore their honor.”90 In November 2001, the DPJ had submitted the bill to the House of Councillors jointly with the JCP and the Social Democratic Party; however, it had been discarded because the LDP had opposed it by arguing that all issues of compensation had been resolved upon the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty.91
After the DPJ took control of the government, former comfort women and their supporters hoped that the bill would pass the Diet.92 However, the coalition government headed by DPJ chairman Hatoyama Yukio faced many difficulties from the beginning. Hatoyama’s changing position on relocation of the Futenma Air Station for the US Marine Corps frustrated the US government, Okinawa Prefecture, and one of the coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party. Hatoyama’s illegal dealings in campaign finance also undermined his credibility.93 Since these difficulties were more urgent for the DPJ than compensation for former comfort women, the DPJ did not submit the bill to the Diet.94
Furthermore, the DPJ faced growing diplomatic tensions with South Korea and China over Dokdo/Takeshima and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, respectively. In fact, ever since Japan surrendered to the Allied powers in 1945, the Japanese government had continuously engaged in territorial disputes over the islands with the two neighboring countries. For example, during the normalization talks between Japan and South Korea in the 1950s, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry responded to Japan’s claim over Dokdo/Takeshima by arguing, “Dokdo was the first victim of Japan’s aggression against Korea. With the defeat of Japan, it came back to us. It is the symbol of our independence. . . . Remember, if Japan tries to take over
Dokdo, it means another round of Japan’s aggression against Korea.”95 The Japanese and South Korean governments had continued to dispute their sovereignty over Dokdo/Takeshima until June 1965 when they had finally agreed not to resolve the dispute with the normalization treaty.96 The issue of Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, by contrast, had not interfered with Japan’s normalization talks with China because Zhou Enlai had already decided to defer discussion of territorial claims over the islands.97 And yet, the negotiations of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship had been almost derailed in April 1978 when Chinese activists critical of Deng Xiaoping had landed on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands to disrupt the signing of the treaty.98 While the Japanese and Chinese governments had signed the treaty by agreeing not to engage in a diplomatic dispute over the islands, fishermen and activists in both Japan and China had continued to assert their claims over the
Then, the territorial dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands exploded in September 2010, when the Japan Coast Guard arrested the captain of a Chinese fishing boat near the islands: the fishing boat was operating inside territory claimed by Japan and collided with two Japanese patrol boats.100 In the end, the Japanese government, headed by DPJ chairman Kan Naoto, released the Chinese captain.101 This action prompted LDP members to criticize Kan for undermining Japan’s sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and exposing the lives of Japanese citizens to security risks.102 Nationalist NGOs in Japan, most notably the Do Your Best Japan! National Action Committee (Ganbare Nippon! Zenkoku Kodo Iinkai), also voiced their criticism of Kan’s government and organized multiple protests between early October and December in Tokyo and Osaka.103 Former and current members of the Diet and municipal councils joined these protests, calling on Japanese citizens to defend the islands against “China’s aggression.” In turn, anti-Japanese protests broke out in multiple cities in China in mid- October, attacking Japanese department stores and restaurants, burning Japanese flags, and calling for the boycott of Japanese products.104
Although these anti-Japanese protests in China had subsided by November, they flared up again in summer 2012. This new round of disputes was set in motion by Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro, who declared in April 2012 that his prefectural government planned to legally purchase the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Ishihara’s plan collected nearly one billion yen of monetary donations. Realizing that Ishihara’s plan was on course to become reality, DPJ prime minister Noda Yoshihiko decided that it would be better if the Japanese government, rather than the Tokyo metropolitan government, owned the islands. After Noda’s government purchased the islands on September 11, the Chinese government responded by sending six patrol boats— the largest number ever—to the islands, as well as cancelling events to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the 1972 Japan-China normalization.105 Moreover, Chinese citizens began to protest against Japan on September 15, and these protests spread to nearly one hundred cities on the eve of the anniversary of the 1931 Mukden Incident. This cycle of antiJapanese demonstrations was much larger and more violent than those in 2005 and 2010.106
Concurrently, the South Korean government pressed the Japanese government over the issue of comfort women. In October 2011, the South Korean Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional that the South Korean government had not taken appropriate action toward Japan with regard to individual compensation claims of former comfort women and A-bomb victims.107 Given the court ruling, Lee Myung Bak’s government brought up the issue of compensation with Noda’s government, but the latter maintained that it had been already resolved upon the 1965 normalization. Then, in December 2011, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan erected a statue of “13-year-old Comfort Woman” as a “symbol of sadness and anger” in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.108 When the Japanese government requested that the statue be removed, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry rejected the request, stating, “The statue embodies the victims’ wish for Japan’s responsible action and restoration of their dignity” and “Japan needs to make an effort on the issue of comfort women.”109
Increasingly frustrated with the Japanese government’s refusal to negotiate the issue of compensation for former comfort women and other South Korean victims, Lee made the first presidential visit to Dokdo/Takeshima on August 10, 2012, in spite of the Japanese government’s protest, where he erected a monument with the Korean-language inscription, “Dokdo, the Republic of Korea, President Lee Myung Bak, Summer 2012.”110 On August 14, a day before the anniversary of Korea’s liberation, Lee also stated that he would welcome Emperor Akihito to South Korea only if the emperor were prepared to “offer sincere apologies to those independence activists who died in their struggle against Japan’s colonial rule.”111 Then, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry distributed to its embassies and consulates 3.5 million copies of a pamphlet in ten different languages, which presented
Dokdo/Takeshima as “the first victim of Japan’s past aggression” and criticized Japan for “continuing its unjustifiable behavior.”112
While Japan’s territorial disputes with South Korea and China deepened, the DPJ began to lose popul ar support because Noda’s government passed the bill to raise consumption tax from 5 to 10 percent in August 2012, while Japanese citizens were still grappling with the aftermath of the triple disaster—the earthquake, tsunami, and the nuclear accident—of March 11, 2011. Dissatisfied with the DPJ, Japanese citizens handed the LDP the majority in the House of Representatives in December 2012. This allowed the LDP to form a coalition government with Komeito and its chairman, Abe Shinzo, to become prime minister again.113 The LDP and Komeito went on to win the House of Councillors election in July 2013 and secured the majority in both houses of the Diet.
During his first term as Japan’s prime minister, between 2006 and 2007, Abe had worked hard to repair Japan’s relations with South Korea and China that had been damaged by Koizumi’s repeated visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. However, Abe had always maintained strong nationalist sentiments. In fact, Abe’s “greatest regret” (tsUkon no kiwami) during his first term was being unable to visit the shrine.114 Although he did not immediately visit the shrine after taking office in December 2012, he sent offerings to the shrine on annual festivals in April and October 2013, and his cabinet members visited the shrine.
Around the same time, South Korea and China also chose new political leaders who were more assertive toward Japan than their predecessors. In December 2012, South Korea elected Park Geun Hye, a daughter of Park Chung Hee, for president. When Park attended a ceremony commemorating the March 1st Movement in 2013, she characterized the relationship between South Korea and Japan as “victim and perpetrator” and demanded that Japan “squarely face its past and take responsibility,” so that the two countries could become partners.115 Moreover, in November 2012, the Eighteenth Central Committee voted in Xi Jinping for general secretary of the Chinese Community Party. In his speech to the assembly, Xi repeatedly emphasized the greatness of the Chinese people, signaling more assertive foreign policy. This was evinced by a significant increase in the number of Chinese boats and jet fighters entering Japan’s territories during 2012.116
Park and Xi introduced a new dynamic into East Asia’s history problem by joining hands to press Japan. First, Park visited Beijing in June 2013 for a summit meeting with Xi. This was the first time any South Korean president had visited China before Japan, indicating Park’s intention to strengthen South Korea’s relations with China. At the summit meeting, she requested Xi to build a memorial in Harbin for Ahn Jung Geun, a Korean independence activist, hailed as a national hero in South Korea for his 1909 assassination of Japanese prime minister Ito Hirobumi.117 Xi promised cooperation, and the Chinese government built a memorial hall, not simply a memorial, inside the Harbin Station in January 2014.”118 On November 23, 2013, the Chinese government also unilaterally declared it would expand its Air Defense Identification Zone to include the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Partly responding to the increasing assertiveness of South Korea and China, and partly acting out his personal belief in the importance of love for the country, Abe visited the Yasukuni Shrine on December 26, 2013. He justified his visit as an act to “honor war dead who sacrificed their precious lives for our country . . . and to renew my commitment to the renunciation of war (fusen no chikai),” whereas the South Korean and Chinese governments immediately issued statements to “strongly protest and criticize” his action.119 Opposition parties in Japan, too, criticized Abe’s action for escalating tensions in Japan’s relations with South Korea and China. DPJ member Okada Katsuya pointed out that the two countries criticized Abe’s visit because “the Yasukuni Shrine enshrines Class A war criminals and promotes a particular historical view . . . [that] justifies the Greater East Asia War as a war of self-defense and liberation of Asia.”120 JCP member Kasa- hara Akira also asked Abe, “Are you aware of this historical view that the shrine defends, and you still visit the shrine?”121 Instead of answering the questions in a straightforward manner, Abe indicated his defiance of the Tokyo Judgment: “It is true that the defendants were judged guilty of crimes against peace at the Tokyo Trial . . . but the sentences handed out at the trial are not valid according to our domestic law.”122
In the end, Abe did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine again because the US government pressed him to make efforts to maintain friendly relations with South Korea and China for the stability of the region. Soon after Abe’s visit to the shrine, the US government expressed its disappointment with his action “that will exacerbate tensions with Japan’s neighbors.”123 President Barak Obama also organized a trilateral meeting between Park, Abe, and himself during the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague in March 2014.124 Abe then briefly met with Xi in Beijing in November 2014 during the meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and held another brief talk with him during the Asian-African Conference in Jakarta in April 2015.125 Thus, just as during his first term as prime minister, Abe chose to compromise his own nationalistic sentiments in favor of Japan’s economic and geopolitical gains.
To prevent the history problem from negatively affecting Japan, Abe also decided to issue an official statement to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Asia-Pacific War. To this end, in February 2015, he created the advisory panel (21-seiki Koso Kondankai) to reflect on the history of the twentieth century and to envision a new world order and Japan’s role in the twenty-first century.126 Based on the advisory panel’s final report, Abe held a press conference on August 14, 2015, and read out a statement that had been officially approved by his cabinet. His statement exemplified the mixture of nationalist defiance and cosmopolitan contrition, consistent with the trajectory of Japan’s official commemoration since the 1990s. At the beginning of his statement, Abe narrated the history of modern Japan by positively evaluating the Russo-Japanese War as a historic event that “gave encouragement to many people under colonial rule from Asia to Africa,” on the one hand, and by clearly acknowledging “Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war,” on the other hand.127 Similarly, he implicitly warned against South Korea and China by stating, “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,” while simultaneously emphasizing, “We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.”128
Although the governments and citizens in South Korea and China were critical of Abe’s statement, no huge controversy erupted, unlike in 1995 and 2005. For example, at a memorial ceremony celebrating the seventieth anniversary of Korea’s liberation, Park expressed her disappointment with Abe’s statement, but she also took note of his commitment to the historical view articulated by the previous cabinets, including Murayama’s.129 Similarly, while China’s Foreign Ministry stated that Japan should have made a “clear statement on its war responsibility” and offered a “sincere apology” to victims, it nonetheless toned down the statement by choosing not to use the phrase “strongly dissatisfied,” the ministry’s official expression of diplomatic protest.130
In fact, in early November 2015, Abe, Park, and China’s premier Li Keqiang held a trilateral summit meeting in Seoul. At the meeting, the three leaders agreed to strengthen regional cooperation on security, economic, en?vironmental, and other issues facing East Asia and international society.131 After this meeting, the Japanese and South Korean governments also began negotiations to resolve the issue of former comfort women. These negotiations led to an official agreement on December 28, 2015, wherein “Prime Minister Abe expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women. . . . To be more specific, it has been decided that the Government of the ROK [Republic of Korea] establish a foundation for the purpose of providing support for the former comfort women, that its funds be contributed by the Government of Japan as a one-time contribution through its budget . . . for recovering the honor and dignity and healing the psychological wounds of all former comfort women.”132 While it remains to be seen whether this agreement will resolve the issue of former comfort women “finally and irreversibly” as the two governments intended, the escalation of the history problem seems to have stopped, at least temporarily, as 2015 came to a close.
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