Commentary: Why Japan Doesn't Earnestly Introspect History

For more than 50 years, Japan has so far failed to seriously introspect its criminal responsibility for invading and enslaving Asian countries during the late 19th century and the middle of the 20th century and has constantly stood diametrically opposed to Asian countries on a series of questions, including history textbook, "comfort women" and wartime labor, politicians' visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. This line of action taken by Japan is bound to affect its relations with Asian countries, then why does it still act arbitrarily, and have no worry about worsening its relations with Asian countries?

This writer is of the view that the crux of the matter lies in the question regarding Japan's identification of Asia. Japan lacks Asian identification; Japanese politicians and media are seldom heard stressing that Japan is an Asian country. There exists a major issue regarding Japan's Asian identification.

Before World War II, Japan pursued a policy of "separating itself from Asia and joining Europe"; after World War II, Japan intended to "separate itself from Asia and join the United States". Japan looks down upon Asia, but at the same time it thinks its own nation and culture are the best in Asia, trying its utmost to draw a clear line of demarcation between itself and other Asian countries and nations. This situation has thus far remained unchanged, with the result that no compromise has been achieved between Japan and China, Korea, the Republic of Korea as well as Southeast Asian countries over the question of history. In this sense, Japan is indeed very isolated in Asia.

To put it bluntly, the question of identification between Japan and Asian countries is the fact that today when tremendous changes have taken place in Asia and the world at large, the Japanese still look down upon Asia in the old way, and simply do not want to merge themselves into Asia and straighten out their relations with Asian countries.

Is it that Japan does not need Asia? No! Is it that Japan really does not feel itself being an Asian nation? No! In some external affairs, Japan gives special thoughts to Asian countries. Japan wishes to be an Asian country only under the circumstance wherein things conform to its narrow private interests.

Let me cite two most recent instances: First, Japan is eager to become a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, for this end, Japan has to seek support from various Asian countries; second, Japan often styles itself as "representative" of Asia at the developed countries' summit (i.e., the eight-nation summit-seven Western countries plus Russia). At the eight-nation summit held last year in Japan's Okinawa, Japan appeared in the capacity of a spokesman for Asian countries, before the summit, Japan solicited the opinions of many Southeast Asian countries, hoping that these counties would report to it their opinions about the developed countries' summit conference, then Japan would bring these opinions to the eight-nation summit.

That's how Japan is beset with contradictions over the question of its approach to Asia.

Why does Japan lack the identification of Asia? The reasons are complicated. This writer maintains that there are five factors: First is Japan's deep-seated nationalist sentiment. In essence this nationalism advertises Japan's national superiority and the interests of Japan's nation stand above everything else, so naturally it is exclusive of (Asia); second is there is a big economic gap between Japan and other Asian countries. As the only developed nation in Asia, Japan's GDP is greater than that of China, the ROK plus 10 Southeast Asian countries, most East Asian countries economically depend on Japan, this non-symmetric economic relationship becomes the material foundation for Japan's self-importance in Asia; third is Japan's globe-oriented economy has caused the country to give special attention to the regions outside Asia; fourth is the union relationship concluded between Japan and the United States over the issue of security; and fifth is that although Japan's internal pacifist forces have all along been very strong, its right-wing forces have caused Asian countries to maintain wariness and vigilance over Japan.

At any rate, Japan's lack of Asian identification constitutes an obstacle to its relations with Asian countries. As long as Japan fails to set about solving this issue, it will be hard for Japan to improve its relations with other Asian countries.

( 08/16/2001)

In This Series



Web Link