Japan - trying to rewrite history?

By Su Xiaohui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail People's Daily, June 9, 2013
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 [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

 [By Jiao Haiyang/China.org.cn]

On June 3, while visiting China, Japan's former Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka acknowledged that in 1972, while in the process of normalizing of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations, leaders from Japan and China had reached an agreement to postpone discussions on the Diaoyu Islands issue.

His observations have provoked an intemperate reaction from some elements in Japan. The incumbent Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has repeatedly criticized Nonaka, describing his views as "baseless", and has gone so far as to suggest that his words were a reward offered in return for "Chinese hospitality".

Such a response is far from helpful. Unfortunately, it appears to be in keeping with a number of recent speeches and actions on the part of Japanese politicians, suggestive of a proclivity to rewrite history.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has recently tried to dilute the impact of the "Kono statement" and the "Murayama talks", which represented an apology for and a reflection on Japan's history of aggression against China. On April 23 2013, he argued in a Diet debate that: "The definition of what constitutes "aggression" has yet to be established in academia or in the international community."

In May the Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto earned international disdain, when he suggested that "the comfort women system was necessary" during WWII.

Under pressure from the international community, including the United States, Japan has reined in its challenges to the historical facts. But fundamentally it has not changed its unsustainable position on many issues, including the Diaoyu Islands.

During a recent interview with the U.S. magazine "Foreign Affairs", Abe said that Japan had never agreed to postpone the Senkaku Islands issue. He went so far as to suggest that China's claims to the contrary were a lie.

Yoshihide Suga has argued that the Potsdam Declaration is not relevant to sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands, claiming that the Diaoyu Islands belonged to Japan prior to the declaration. His attack on Hiromu Nonaka indicates that Japan continues to maintain that there is no need to address the territorial sovereignty issue with China, nor postpone the issue – suggesting that in Japan's view the issue is already settled.

However, this inflexible position has provoked a reaction from some rather more broad-minded individuals. While visiting China in January, the former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama acknowledged that there is indeed a territorial dispute with China over the Diaoyu Islands.

Before his visit to China, Natsuo Yamaguchi - the leader of "New Komeito" which is part of the Japanese ruling coalition - expressed the view that since the issue is difficult to resolve, it would be prudent to incorporate the wisdom of future generations in any discussions. This view was widely recognized as support for the idea that there is an issue, and that for the time being any attempt to resolve it should be postponed.

In response to the accusations leveled against him, Hiromu Nonaka said that current problems were precisely the result of the Japanese government's attempts to renege on the agreement to postpone the dispute.

Asked repeatedly by Japanese media if he would take back what he had said during his visit to China, Hiromu Nonaka responded that any such demand was unreasonable. He repudiated any suggestion that he was being "exploited" by China.

In 1972, during the process of normalization of Sino-Japanese diplomatic relations, and again in 1978, during the negotiation process on the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China, leaders of both countries reached a consensus that any attempt to resolve the Diaoyu Islands issue would be postponed. This is one of the keystones to the development of Sino-Japanese ties, and to peace and stability in East Asia, over the 40 years and more that have since elapsed.

Japan's provocative behavior on the islands dispute has already done serious damage to the basis of bilateral ties. If Japan refuses to reconsider its position and continues to distort the historical facts, such damage can only get worse - and Japan will find itself in an isolated position in the international community.

The author is Deputy Director of International and Strategic Studies from the China Institute of International Studies.


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