In 1972 Japan and China signed a joint declaration to begin the normalisation of bi-lateral relations between the two countries. This is seen to be vital in both countries that relations are friendly, especially seeing that Japan has one of the world’s strongest economies, and China is becoming a global power too. More importantly, hostile relations in a tense region in the world, is dangerous seeing that both countries have strong military capabilities. During this resumption of diplomatic relation Japan expressed ‘deep remorse’ to China for the war.
Since then, the issue of reparations and apologies has been a sticking point in a developing, economic and political relationship, which has seen the two countries work together as they had done in previous centuries. As a result of the normalisation, hostilities ended, and there was recognition from both sides of institutional and political systems. China renounced its claim for war reparations, and so this lead to the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the two countries being signed on August 1978, but only entered into force on 23 October 1978.
The history of the two aspiring Asian powers stems back a long way, in many senses of the word, by this I’m implying that they have always used their relationship to work closely politically, economically, and culturally. They have both always seen themselves as the dominating country in the region, and have always competed. In this essay, I aim to give an account of Japan’s numerous apology efforts made towards China during since the war and especially over the last 30 years. I will explore this on a governmental level, from both sides, and also the reaction to these apologies from a public point of view.
China are continuously using the war as an instrumental value to put economic pressure on Japan, why is this? When will the apologies be enough? The basic framework for Japan-China relations in the 21st century was established by the Japan-China Joint Declaration on Building a Partnership of Friendship and Cooperation for Peace and Development, issued in 1998 during President Jiang Zemin’s visit to Japan. This Declaration stresses that Japan and China should cooperate not only for their own benefit, but to contribute to the international community.
When in 1998 Jiang Zemin became the first President of China to visit Japan, people thought that the past had been buried and put to the back of the politician’s minds, and bi-lateral relations would grow from this meeting. It wasn’t just a meeting of two important politicians, in Jiang Zemin and Keizo Obuchi, but a signing of a Joint Declaration of Partnership for Friendship and Cooperation, which would be the catapult to launch these great nations to work together in the 21st Century. However, it became a tour of criticism of the Japanese.
It was just a further opportunity for the Chinese to request another apology from Japan for its war crimes. On so many previous occasions Japan, and its leaders, and ministers have expressed remorse in more than one way. Why does China continue to make references to the past, when the two countries will gain more by talking about the future. It seems to me that “China still derives too much political gain from constant criticism to drop it. “1 Prior to the visit by Zemin, China urged Japan to issue an apology for its ‘aggression’ in China earlier in the century.
This came from sources in the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo, after they decided to toughen their stand on this debate, following the joint statement issued by Obuchi and South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. “In that statement, Obuchi expressed ‘deep remorse and heartfelt apology’ for the ‘great pain and damage’ Japan inflicted on the Korean people during its 1910-1945 rule of the Korean Peninsula. “2 At the time the Japanese Foreign Ministry said that it had already settled its past with China, and left it up to Prime Minister Obuchi to make a decision on whether to apologise.
The visit by Zemin was cancelled by Beijing once for flooding in China, and then was put off a second time due to the Chinese not being pleased at the fact that an apology was not arranged. The Chinese wanted a change in the Joint Statement with Korea, with the words ‘Korean People’ changed to ‘Chinese People’ and ‘colonial rule’ changed to ‘aggression’. Japan refused this, as it had apologised for its actions many times in the past, some of which I will go into in more detail. The failure of Japan to give such a formal written apology to China was believed to be due to the strength of nationalist opposition”. 3 Obuchi’s party, the LDP, were trying to enhance their government legislative capability, by arranging a coalition with the conservative liberal party. Even with the opportunity on both sides to move on, the issue of war still arises, at most sensitive moments. With China repeatedly asking for an apology from Japan, it is easy to think to yourself, has Japan actually apologised?
This therefore gives Japan and its leaders a bad reputation, with the world thinking that Japan has done nothing to compensate for the war. Certain people’s point of view is that Japan has already apologised and so does not need to do so again, others say that if they have apologised once, why can’t they do so again? Depending on your political stance determines most how people think with regards to the apology issue. Coming from a westerner’s perspective, I would have said that Japan has apologised on more than one occasion.
Under the verdict that Japan accepted in the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, reparations were offered and paid to Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, another series of payments were also made to South Korea, Thailand and other countries under separate agreements. Although this may have been seen by many to have helped the Japanese boost their economy, by handing out loans, which were payments for Japanese made products. This was still only 6 years after Japan had lost the war, and they had already offered reparations to several countries, is this not one form of apology?
If by the late 1950’s a formal apology had not yet been given, or been sufficient then, Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke, who was also regarded as a class-A war criminal, had made amends in 1957 when he travelled to Australia, and apologised in front of the Australian parliament. While still in office Nobusuke asked a South Korean Diplomat to take this message back to President Syngman Rhee: “I am deeply remorseful for the errors of Japan’s colonial rule in the past, and I am resolved to work for immediate normalisation of our relations. 4 This was a big step to making amends, especially as Rhee was a big critic of Japan, and “he reportedly was gratified by these words and made a friendly response. “5 Into the 1990’s and the textbook incident of 1982, when a high school history text book had certain words changed, with references to wartime Japanese ‘invasion’ with ‘penetration’ or ‘advance’, which led to protests from Korea and Japan. However since then, China has been far more insistent on an apology.
In 1990 Hosokawa became the first Prime Minister not from the LDP since the 1940’s, and literal words such as apology came into use. In a summit meeting with South Korean President Roh Tae Woo, Prime Minister Kaifu Toshiki used the word owabi for apology. Hosokawa whilst in power, whenever asked of the war would always refer to Japans colonial rule as ‘acts of aggression’, the first time a Japanese Prime Minister has done so.
One of the clearest remarks by a Japanese diplomat came from Former Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe on June 5 1995, a couple of months before the 50th anniversary of the end of the war. He first retracted his earlier claim on June 3, that Korea had willingly become a Japanese Colony in 1910, which caused much resentment in the South Korean government and Public, and later apologised for this. “The 1910 Korean annexation treaty was concluded amid the historical circumstances of international relations and other factors at the time.
Earlier, I said the treaty was ‘formed peacefully. ‘ I now retract this ‘peacefully’ and apologise, he said”6. This seemed to be a very straight forward apology by the former Foreign Minister, which is a little out of sync with the distinctive statements given by Japanese politicians, of which they would usually refer to their remorse as a ‘reflection’ or ‘recognition of pain’, Watanabe went on to say: “Personally, I have frankly admitted and am sorry that Japan, in its 36-year rule of the Korean Peninsula, inflicted unbearable pains on the people in the region. 7 Norma field, in her essay on ‘The Stakes of Apology’ stresses one of the main regional problems, of why certain people might not have accepted the apology or remorse from Japan. The essay points out that the “Vocabulary of apology is relatively limited in most languages, and the worth of an apology must be judged by the available ensemble. “8 The definition in the Oxford English Dictionary offers several different explanations of the word and so the apology might be acceptable or sufficient enough for one person, and yet not at all for another. An explanation offered to a person affected by ones action that no offence was intended, coupled with the expression of regret for any that may have been given. ” In my view this is the form of apology that Japan has given China, along with the rest of the world, especially the Asia Pacific region. Why then do the Chinese still bring up the past? Some people may argue that it is used as an instrumental value to China to put economic pressure on Japan. China has in the past exploited the war issue in negotiations with Japan over loans and aid.
Whenever China felt that the aid was not sufficient for them, they brought up the sensitive issue, and is seen to them as a ‘moral debt’. “In particular, when Japan froze grant aid in 1995 and changed conditions for ODA in an attempt to pressure China to stop its nuclear testing, China reacted by portraying Japan’s policies as evidence of a revival of strategic pressure associated with wartime militarism. “9 However, when it suited the Chinese they knew very well how to keep the war issues quiet.
In the case of Tiananmen Square in 1989, for the next few years they tried very hard not to upset Japan, as they knew the rest of the international community would not back them. China still use the war issue in the hope of a domestic and international political advantage. This is seen when they have in the past refuted claims by the Japanese on war casualty figures, and then announced their own figures for the war dead. In a 1995 speech by Jiang Zemin, the Chinese President claimed that 35 million people were killed or injured in the war, and over 300,000 people killed in the Nanjing Massacre.
Both of these are figures which the Japanese regard as incorrect. Naturally the 50th anniversary of the war was going to bring something up from either the Japanese or more likely China. The Lower House of the Diet drew up a resolution on June 9 to commemorate the anniversary; however there was much dissent from members within the coalition government. This was unlike any other past resolutions, as it was approved by less than half of the 511 members of the House of Representatives. The other half were absent when the resolution was adopted. 71 members of Shinshinto, the largest opposition party, were absent, along with many members from the LDP. The main sticking point in the resolution between the two parties was on the matter of including the terms ‘colonisation’ and ‘acts of aggression’. This was the first resolution that expressed the Japanese Parliament view on the war. Prior to the anniversary, Prime Minister Murayama met Chinese leaders in Beijing and reiterated his remorse over the war. He also visited the Marco Polo Bridge, which was the site of the 1937 clash between Chinese and Japanese forces which triggered the war.
He also met with Chinese Premier Li Peng and offered his apologies, using the terms ‘aggression’ and ‘colonial rule’. The unofficial text read out by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama on the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II read: “During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and through its colonial rule and aggression caused tremendous damage.
In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I accept, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. “10 Still after this text was read out, the world audience were not entirely pleased. Firstly they commented that Murayama in his speech “attempted to spread Japan’s responsibility around by asserting that all major powers, not just Japan were guilty of misbehaviour. 11 Another remark made about the resolution, was that some people thought that part of the speech insinuated that the war was basically about liberating Asia. Finally, the most sensitive issue was the fact that the resolution lacked the word ‘apology’, which seems to bother a lot of people in the Asia Pacific region, and drew some critics to exclaim that the Japanese were not sorry. Now, this is quite controversial as many people already believe that Japan has apologised previously, but the region is still displeased, and feel as if a proper apology has never been made.
The fact that the 50th anniversary was over stated as a ripe time to apologise formally, made Japan seem as if it had never apologised for what it had done. In a sense this whole period prior to the anniversary, damaged the nations reputation. Ironically, the British media reported in the London Times, that Japan had ‘mishandled the 50th anniversary’ and said that the occasion was ‘an opportunity to make symbolic, and therefore real peace. ‘ On the other had British Prime Minister John Major accepted an apology from Premier Murayama, which he sent prior to giving his speech on the resolution.
The letter expressed “a profound remorse and apology for Japans treatment of prisoners of war, the second time that a Japanese Prime Minister had used the term owabi (apology) regarding Japans wartime actions. “12 There is a thin line between two sets of people, one of which cannot forget the war, they suffered during it, and want a formal and direct apology, along with compensation. Then there are those who regard the war as a part of history, and that is where it should be left if we are to move on. While the first group of people have received an apology, it has not been a sufficient one for their standards.
Who has the perfect apology for such inhumane crimes such as the Nanjing Massacre? A speech read out by a newly elected Japanese Prime Minister with all the required words such as ‘apology’, ‘war of aggression’ and ‘remorse’ will still not be the right recipe for an apology for certain people. It would therefore seem logical to look at the latter group of people who have moved on and accepted the form of apology that Japan has offered. “Malaysia’s Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mahatir Mohamad exemplifies that attitude. We prefer to look towards the future rather than harp on actions in the past,’ he told reporters during Prime Ministers Tomiichi Murayama’s 1994 visit to Malaysia. ‘I cannot understand why the Japanese government keeps apologising fro things that happened 50 years ago. If one asks for compensation for something that occurred 50 years ago, what about compensation for events that occurred 100 or 200 years ago, during colonial rule? ‘”13 Western regimes in the 18th and 19th centuries too caused suffering to many people, with slavery, and colonial rule. Do American Presidents still apologise to the Red Indians for their brutal treatment?
Okay, so this is coming from the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who’s country was not so badly affected by the tyranny of the Japanese forces in the 30’s and 40’s, and who is benefiting from the huge Japanese economic machine which provides aid and investment so badly needed in a developing country. Its true that Korea and China suffered most from the atrocities in the early half of the century, but they too have received large amounts of aid from Japan, which it has to thank for its super high development rate, which has seen Asia becoming the worlds most economically thriving regions.
Is that fair compensation? Is providing other countries that you hurt so badly 50 years ago with aid and investment, and offering countless statements of apology not enough? I think it is. There cannot be much more that Japan can offer to the tragedy inflicted people of China. It could be argued that the attitudes of the two countries will remain in conflict, since Japan wants to forget the past, and China due to political and economic reasons, as explained in this essay, wants to remember it.
As a closing statement for this essay, I’ll use what Japanese Prime Minister Ichiro Ozawa said in 1997, on his view that China and Japan have little in common, although to me this seems as if they have a lot to share. “All China wants from Japan is Money. All Japan wants from China is the Chinese market… A relationship based solely on financial considerations is a fragile one. If ours remains the way it is now, it is bound to sour in the future”14