Wednesday, April 20, 2005

China & Japan: Controversies

Mass protest of 20,000 in China
Here at the Black Moon our admiration of Japan and its people is more than apparent, and we make no apologies for our love of Japanese culture. However, one must make a distinction between a nation’s people and the government under which they live… even in a democracy. In the best case scenario, a democratically elected government will represent the people, but in the worst of cases it will neglect or abuse the people’s interests. Sadly, we believe this to be the case when it comes to the present Japanese government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. While we love the Japanese people, we are not in favor of Koizumi or the clique of nationalistic militarists he has surrounded himself with.

As of this writing tens of thousands of people continue to protest all across China, denouncing Koizumi’s government for making the decision to revise the history books used in the Japanese school system. The new books present Japan’s imperialist invasion of neighboring countries as justifiable, in that Asian countries were “liberated” from European colonialism. Throwing fuel on the fire, on April 19th, the Tokyo High Court rejected a case that asked for financial compensation for Chinese victims of Japanese atrocities committed in the 1930’s and 40’s - which included the use of biological weapons. Historians say that approximately 250,000 people were killed by the use of such weapons. Also on the 19th, Japanese Nationalist lawmakers and a former defense minister announced their intention to visit the controversial Yasukuni Shrine on April 22nd. Some of Japan’s most notorious executed war criminals, the planners and conspirators of World War II, are buried there.

The western press has largely characterized the demonstrations in China as “anti-Japanese”, and insinuate that the Chinese communist government is actually behind the protests for political reasons. But these mainstream media assertions overlook the fact that the protests are also occurring in South Korea, America’s non-communist ally. The democratically elected President of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, commenting on Japan’s textbooks in an extraordinary open letter to the people of Korea, accused Japan of “rationalizing its history of invasion and colonization.” South Korea’s Ambassador to Geneva, Choi Hyuk, said “This year is the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. If we don’t learn the lessons from the mistakes of history… we are doomed to repeat them.” Choi added that Japan’s approving the right-wing nationalist textbooks was “a factor of serious concern for Korea.” Song Ming-soon, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official, said “In this case Japan is seeking to beautify its dark and aggressive part of history.”

Chinese protestors carry anti-Koizumi posters
Large demonstrations against the Japanese government have occurred in Seoul, south Korea, including a protest march and rally led by women who had been held in sexual slavery by the Japanese imperial army during its occupation of Korea. There were an estimated 200,000 women forced into sexual slavery, and Japan’s new textbooks barely mentions them - other than to refer to them as “comfort women.” The textbooks also maintain that a group of islets claimed by both Korea and Japan belong to Japan, which has further outraged the people of Korea. But it wasn’t just Korea, mainland China and Taiwan that were seized and occupied by the Japanese imperialists during the Second World War - the Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, and Indonesia also suffered from Japan’s brutal colonialism. While those countries are not witnessing large protests against the right-wing nationalist textbooks, it is certain the people of those countries are aggravated by the Japanese stance of white-washing history.

Right-wing Japanese nationalists publicly state the textbooks deliberately gloss over Japan’s war time crimes in order to instill “patriotism” in Japanese youth. One backer, Professor Nobukatsu Fujioka, said, “Great Britain committed war crimes. America too. My concern is that Japanese children are taught to hate their country. They are taught that only Japan was wrong in the war. Don't all countries use history to instill pride in students?” It is alarming how much this sounds like the US right-wing when it discusses the war against Vietnam or Iraq, but then, pro-war conservatives use the same rhetoric no matter what country they’re from. US conservatives are proud of America for defeating Imperial Japan in the Second World War - as all lovers of democracy and self-determination should be. They have praised the US military occupation of Japan which delivered a democratic form of government and a pacifist constitution guaranteeing Japan would never again become a military power.

So it is a great irony that US conservatives have now fallen silent as Japan moves ever to the right… and towards military expansionism. This entails much more than just the white-washing of history. Koizumi’s government has closely aligned itself to the Bush administration, and Japan presently has around 550 troops serving in US-occupied Iraq, which is the largest military operation abroad for Japan since World War II. Koizumi hopes this coziness with Bush in Iraq will help win Tokyo a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and as Bush’s “Coalition of the Willing” increasingly turns into the “Coalition of the Leaving”, Washington is prepared to look the other way as Japan’s government once again seeks to become a military power. Koizumi’s government has empowered an official panel to look at revising Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist Constitution - the very section that has kept Japan’s army restricted to its own shores for the last 60 years. None of this bodes well for Japan’s future relations with the rest of Asia.

The Black Moon staff opposes racism and militarism no matter who is guilty of practicing it. We want the sharing of art and culture to be a platform for solidarity and understanding among people - that is part of our mission statement. So while it pains us to criticize Japan concerning its current political affairs, it is a sincere critique based on the desire to see an honest admission of guilt for past abuses, as well as a willingness to equally share the future with other nations with dignity and respect. The first step in that process will have to be the denunciation of Japan’s revisionist textbooks and ultimately - rejection of right-wing nationalist politics. (posted by M.)