Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Onus to resolve historical issues lies with Japan

By Cai Hong (China Daily) Updated: 2015-09-08 09:06

Onus to resolve historical issues lies with Japan

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe offers a silent prayer for victims of the 1945 atomic bombing, during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the city at Nagasaki's Peace Park in western Japan, August 9, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe did not have the courage to attend the commemorative activities organized by China on Thursday to mark the 70th anniversary of the victory in World War II and Chinese People's War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1937-45). Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga went so far as to say that China did not even try for rapprochement with his country.

The fact is, China in all sincerity invited Abe to attend the commemorative events, but Japan assumed it to be a humiliation.

Japan did not like the presence of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Beijing during the commemoration either, saying the world body should stay "neutral".

What Japan seemed to have missed, or ignored, is that China is entitled to observe the victory in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression with or without a military parade.

Failing to deal with its war past, Japan has always been oversensitive to unresolved historical issues being raised by other countries. Japan asked the United States-based publishing company McGraw Hill to change passages in a history textbook about women who were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels during WWII. Japan also objected to President Xi Jinping mentioning the Nanjing Massacre in his remarks in Germany in March 2014, saying it was inappropriate to raise such an issue in a "third country".

The UN reminded Japan that its secretary-general had attended similar events throughout the year, notably in Poland, Ukraine and in Moscow. Ban himself recognized China's wartime sacrifice and asked all countries to use such occasions to reflect on the past and look to the future.

But Japan wants to look to the future by burying its ugly war past.

The Abe administration, by trying to railroad the two security bills through parliament, which are under debate in the upper house, has become unpopular in Japan. Hundreds of thousands of protesters assembled near Japan's parliament building on Aug 30 demanding the bills be scrapped and Abe step down.

Yet Abe is reported to be pursuing diplomatic breakthroughs. Japanese newspapers reported that Xi and Republic of Korea President Park Geun-hye agreed in Beijing last week to hold a trilateral meeting of the three East Asian powers in Seoul in late October or early November.

East Asia is one of the most important crucibles of global economic and strategic change. The region has achieved economic prosperity, and China, Japan and the ROK are each other's major trade and investment partners and their economies are highly interdependent.

But cross-cultural understanding still eludes them. Japan's relationships with China and the ROK are cold because of Japan's reluctance to properly atone for its wartime past. Japan has territorial disputes with China and the ROK, too.

Political relationships in East Asia remain hostage to Japan's historical distortions and its failure to come to terms with history.

As Japan holds the key to resolving the historical issues, it needs to remove the principal obstacle to political reconciliation in Asia. Without rapprochement, distrust and suspicion grow and breed nationalism that strains country-to-country relationship.

A guilty conscience needs no accuser.

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