TCS Daily

Beijing Lacks Respect for Japan's Sovereignty

By Christopher Lingle - July 30, 2004 12:00 AM

It is a constant refrain of officials in Beijing that no other country should interfere with its internal affairs or even pass comment on events that occur inside China. However, this insistence on "non-interference" only works one way since Chinese officials often venture opinions on the internal events in other countries.

For example, Chinese authorities voiced opposition when members of Japan's Self Defense Force joined the coalition in Iraq. China Daily, one of the official Communist Party mouthpieces insisted that such a deployment of troops contravened Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. In a supreme act of hypocrisy, the authoritarian and autocratic Communist regime is demanding that another country accept the rule of law.

And Beijing often raises objections when Japanese leaders visit the Yasukuni Shrine. While the shrine honors Japan's war dead and includes convicted Japanese Class-A war criminals, it is hypocritical to intrude into what is effectively a domestic issue for Japan. After the last visit of Prime Minister Koizumi to the shrine this past January, China voiced its "strong indignation and sense of reproach." (South Korea and Taiwan also expressed strong objections to each of the four visits by Prime Minister Koizumi to the Shinto memorial.)

On the face of it, this is an unreasonable interference in the internal affairs of another country. But as with all other matters, it is misleading to be guided by the obvious when it comes to deciphering actions by the regime that controls China.

After suffering under Japanese aggression, it is understandable that any hint of a resurgence of Japanese nationalism would be a cause for dread. However, it is important to realize that much of Beijing's posturing is inspired by international chicanery and its own domestic agenda.

Chinese authorities have been whipping up anti-Japanese sentiments in hopes of gaining diplomatic leverage with Tokyo. But Beijing's anti-Japan campaign that was revived in the 1990s is also part of a domestic political strategy to encourage greater nationalism.

Context for these disputes can is the belief by the Chinese leaderships that its Japanese counterpart has shown insufficient remorse for past misdeeds against the Chinese people. Until recently, Japan's leaders refused to acknowledge criminal culpability for their acts against their neighbors during World War II.

Instead, their actions in other Asian countries tend to be portrayed as assisting their neighbors in throwing out European colonialists. And Japanese history textbooks do not depict their encroachment into China as an invasion, portraying the Manchurian campaign and actions in China as part of a wider global problem.

As for the suffering that followed, the official Japanese is that perceptions of injuries by others are based upon misunderstandings or bad judgments and mistakes by Japanese rulers. While senior level officials often explicitly deny Japanese war crimes, they have offered apologies for real or imagined injuries unto others during the disputed periods.

Recently, Prime Minister Koizumi broke with previous Japanese leaders and displayed true remorse for wartime brutality by offering a "heartfelt apology" for Japan's colonial past. He also laid a wreath at a site in Beijing commemorating wartime atrocities against the Chinese.

Even so, the Chinese have been prickly about reciprocal acts that would bolster bilateral relations. From a cultural perspective, the issue of "face" is crucial from both the Chinese and Japanese sides.

Any form of public apology is an extremely serious matter. For its part, Communist officials have not apologized to the Chinese people for their disastrous mistakes arising from the Great Leap Forward or the evil set loose by the Cultural Revolution or the Tiananmen massacre.

In all events, it appears when confronted with the choice of submitting an apology for wrongdoing and offering restitution, most East Asians tend to opt for the latter. In this case, the Japanese may consider their contributions to China's recent economic development combined with greater conciliatory interactions as sufficient meritorious acts in atonement for their sins.

Politically, constraints of domestic politics in Japan and China shape their respective positions. Much of the posturing reflects political performances for domestic consumption and manipulation of relationships with other national politicians rather than calculated moves in bilateral relationships.

Chinese nationalism is being served by constructing and perpetuating an image of an historical affront to national dignity by portraying China's people as innocent victims. In turn, the regime in Beijing gains credibility by being a protector from an exaggerated threat.

The complex mixture of political opportunism and cultural input make a clear reading of the Chinese position on the American and Japanese apologies very difficult. The Chinese should learn that demands for sincere apologies require that they behave with greater sincerity in seeking and accepting them.

Christopher Lingle is Professor of Economics at Universidad Francisco MarroquĂ­n in Guatemala and Global Strategist for


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