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Understanding Sino-Japanese Relations

By Jin Xide

The Japanese government's recent attitude to its past aggression against China, and the remarks it regards events such as the war of invasion, "comfort women" and the Nanjing Massacre have chilled already tepid bilateral ties, which were normalized in 1972.

The main sticking points at the root of problematic Sino-Japanese relations concern Japan's whitewashing of its invasion of China.

Since the late-1800s, Japan walked a militarist road with aggression as its basic national policy. After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, Japan occupied Taiwan and plundered some 230 million Kuping taels, amounting to four and a half times Japan's annual revenue at the time. After the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, Japan occupied the northeast Chinese cities of Dalian and Lushun. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and then occupied three northeast China provinces in 1931. From 1937, Japan invaded northern, southern and east China, and parts of Southeast Asia. Japanese troops' atrocities during this military campaign claimed the lives of some 35 million Chinese, and incurred losses totaling some US$600 billion for the Chinese economy.

Japan also played a major role during the Second World War alongside fascist Germany and Italy.

After the war, Japan established "diplomatic relations" with Taiwan in 1952, thereby severing any diplomatic ties that China might have had with Japan at the time.

Although the Chinese suffered untold pain and suffering as a result of Japanese aggression, the late Chairman Mao Zedong said that it was only a handful of Japanese militarists who were responsible. Most ordinary Japanese were themselves victims of the wars their leaders waged.

In 1972, after high-level negotiations, the Chinese and Japanese governments signed the Sino-Japanese Joint Statement and resumed diplomatic relations.

The Sino-Japanese Joint Statement points out that the normalization of Sino-Japanese relations and development of neighborly and friendly ties are not only in the interests of the two peoples, but would also contribute to easing tensions in Asia and the maintenance of world peace.

It called for "taking history as a mirror and facing up to the future," which are the prerequisites for the sound and stable development of bilateral ties.

It also stressed the importance of adhering to the one-China policy and a proper handling of the Taiwan issue, key conditions for pushing forward Sino-Japanese ties.

During the negotiation process, the Chinese government showed a willingness on their part to iron out any historical issues it might have had with Japan by renouncing its demand for compensation from the Japanese government for its wartime aggression. Meanwhile, the Japanese government, too, engaged in self-criticism of its aggression. The 1978 Sino-Japanese Treaty of Peace and Friendship, and the 1998 Sino-Japanese Joint Declaration reaffirmed the basic spirit of the 1972 Joint Statement.

However, bilateral relations degenerated in the mid-1990s when certain actions and remarks made by the Japanese leadership were considered by the Chinese government to contravene the spirit of the 1972 Joint Statement.

Japanese leaders' visits to the Yasukuni Shrine are of particular significance.

The Yasukuni Shrine honors 2.5 million Japanese war veterans, including the wartime prime minister and convicted war criminal Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class-A WWII war criminals.
Only recently, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, when responding to questions as to why he continues to visit the shrine, was quoted by Kyodo News as saying, "I don't understand why I should stop visiting Yasukuni Shrine. I will decide appropriately when to go."
Koizumi made these remarks on May 15 in response to a call by opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Yoshito Sengoku for the premier to stop the visits due to opposition from China and South Korea. The lawmaker criticized the prime minister's visits as putting Japan's foreign relations at risk.
In addition, the Japanese Education Ministry's recent approval of the revised middle school history textbook, which purportedly distorts history and glorifies Japan's invasion of its neighboring countries, has further damaged Sino-Japanese relations.

Since the normalization of bilateral relations in 1972, the Japanese government has revised their history textbooks four times, in 1982, 1986, 2001 and 2005.

Furthermore, Japanese politicians' comments on the country's history of invasion amount to, in the view of the Chinese people, an insensitive distorting and whitewashing of that history. Some politicians have said that the "comfort women" concept was no more than a commercial activity. Others have described the invasions as wars of emancipation.

It is China's view that if the Japanese continue to refuse to apologize for their wartime atrocities, it is a likelihood that the aggression will be repeated.

(The author is a professor with the Institute of Japanese Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

(China.org.cn translated by Li Shen, July 28, 2005)

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