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Monday, January 12, 2015, 09:47

Asia's moment of peace waits for Japan

By Cai Hong

On June 4, 2004, Gerhard Schroder became the first German chancellor to stand alongside the leaders of Germany's wartime enemies in France, marking the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, which were a prelude to the end for the Third Reich.

"Hugely symbolic," Schroder, who accepted the invitation from then-French President Jacques Chirac, said of his attendance in France. "It means World War II is finally over."

Such a hugely symbolic moment has yet to occur in Asia.

War anniversaries are still a sore point in East Asia. Media in Japan are foreseeing this year as a difficult one for the country, as it marks the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII on Aug 15, when Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Powers in 1945. Unlike Europe, Asia's former enemies have never come together to commemorate the end of the war.

This year is also the 50th anniversary of normalization of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea. Although both entered office more than two years ago, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has not been able to have a formal summit meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, because of the Abe administration's claims that the Imperial Japanese Army was not involved in coercing women into sexual slavery.

In his Jan 1 remarks, Japan's Emperor Akihito asked the nation to learn from the WWII as it considers its future. He recommended starting with the Manchurian Incident of 1931.

This was when the Japanese troops stationed in Northeast China - known as Manchuria back then - detonated a bomb on the rails of the South Manchuria Railway and used it as an excuse to attack Chinese troops on Sept 18, 1931, heralding the beginning of Japan's invasion of China.

Will the 81-year-old Emperor's call for reflection on the war have the ear of his "subjects"?

The answer will be revealed in a statement Abe will issue on Aug 15. He said it will include remorse for the past war and Japan's postwar and future development.

Japan is not comfortable every time it is compared to Germany in terms of atonement for its deeds and reconciliation with the victims.

Both waged war, but Germany has apologized sincerely and atoned, Japan has not.

When Schroder came to power one of his central pledges to Germans was to draw a line under their country's nightmare history, to finally make Germany a "normal" country. Schroder described D-Day as "a day of gratitude for the freedom which was won starting there". For Germany, Schroder's presence in France on June 4, 2004 signaled international rehabilitation.

Abe is the first Japanese prime minister born after the war who has a political agenda to build a "proud and strong Japan". He is committed to breaking away from the postwar regime the US occupation imposed on Japan. And on wartime history, Abe has allied himself with Japan's right-wing politicians, news media and scholars. He doubts the validity of the postwar Tokyo Trials, in which Japan's wartime leaders were condemned.

But the sackings of Nanjing and Manila; the slaves worked to death on the Thai-Burma railroad; the brutal prisoner of war camps from Singapore to Sumatra; the millions of dead in China. These have left permanent scars on the history of Asia.

Europe took 60 years to deal with its WWII legacy and forge new bonds, Asia still does not know how long this will take.

This is up to Japan.

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