Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Japan must own up to militarist past

By Sun Xi (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-03 09:30

Japanese probably view apologies as a kind of shame. But they would do well to study former West German chancellor Willy Brandt's Warschauer Kniefall, an outstanding work on the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The book made the then West Germany gain more respect from its neighbors, which had suffered under Nazi invasions. As a former opponent of the Nazis, Brandt had no need to apologize but as a German leader he did so on behalf of his people, for their collective guilt.

In contrast, Japanese leaders have adamantly refused to issue any apology. Worse, some of today's Japanese leaders are the scions of powerful wartime families.

Moreover, beyond the perceived shame, Japan cannot accept that China has overtaken it as the world's second-largest economy. As a result, it uses every excuse to make some noise while forgetting that China will no longer fall for its games and lose face again. It is thus no surprise that China has been toughening its stance on the Diaoyu Islands dispute, for instance, by announcing the Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea.

This year, as the West observes the centennial of the start of World War I, China is commemorating the 120th anniversary of the first Sino-Japanese War. History is a mirror, and it has to be reviewed to build a better future, not to generate hatred, which means Japan can ensure its long-term development and regional security only after admitting its militarist past.

China, on its part, could choose either to follow the proverb "blood will have blood" or to take the Confucian advice to "recompense injury with justice". But it is wise to keep in mind another proverb, "vengeance has a way of rebounding upon oneself".

In 1998, China and Japan agreed to build a "friendly and cooperative partnership for peace and development" toward the 21st century. Despite the latest diplomatic flare-up, that should be the visionary guide leading the two countries out of their history of confrontations.

The author is a social responsibility investment analyst and independent commentator based in Singapore.

The Globalist.

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