There were two sets of countries that were at war with each other for well over one hundred years: Germany and France in Europe, and China and Japan in Asia. According to Lehmann, the European pair has now come to terms and work with each other as close allies, but the Asian pair is still at loggerheads that may rekindle a devastating war.
He cited two recent events to illustrate his points. One was the commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Verdun. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande jointly participated in the event on May 28, 2016. They were accompanied by 3000 schoolchildren, half of them French and the other half German. We admire the statesmanship and far-sighted vision of these two leaders. Their action not only sets aside the hostility between the two countries, but also stresses the importance of friendship and cooperation in the future. The reconciliation of the two former enemies represents a momentous change of the relationship between these two countries. This unforgettable example will surely inspire the younger generations who witnessed this historical event.
The other event was U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima. Obama wished to use his visit to mark the strengthening of the US-Japan bilateral relationship. Lehmann observed "Though it did not include an apology, there have been suggestions that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should reciprocate by paying a visit to Pearl Harbor. It would indeed be a good symbolic gesture. But the US-Japanese relationship is not a cause of geopolitical concern. Even at the height of the US-Japan trade friction in the 1980s, where there was “Japan-bashing” in the United States and open contempt for the US (kenbei in Japanese) in Japan, there was never even a remote risk that it would degenerate into conflict.”
Lehmann briefly remarked about the two World Wars that involved China and Japan. He said “Thus though both Japan and China fought on the side of the allies in World War I, Japan’s status as the United Kingdom’s ally and hence a “big power” allowed it to have former German concessions in China transferred to Japan, rather than returned to Chinese sovereignty, much to the vociferous opposition of China, leading to a national uprising known as the May 4th Movement.”
WWII story is familiar to us all. This time, Japan was on the losing side while China was one of the victors. But as Lehmann noted “With defeat in World War II quickly followed by Liberation in China, Japan by the early 1950s was quickly transformed from the US’ erstwhile hated enemy to its pampered protégé. A security alliance was signed between the two countries in 1952, which is seemingly still going strong."
This pampered protégé position enjoyed by Japan cut short the allies' efforts to rein in Japan's ambition to become the political and military power in Asia. Nobusuke Kishi, an important member of the wartime Hideki Tojo's cabinet and the maternal grandfather of Shinzo Abe, was detained three and a half years as a Class-A war criminal suspect by the Tokyo Tribunal. But due to the onset of Cold War, the Tokyo Tribunal did not convict him and released him in December 1948. He later became the prime minister of Japan (1957-1960).
In his article, Lehmann made several succinct observations of the Sino-Japanese relationship:
“These alliances with the West helped project Japan’s power in the East, especially vis-à-vis China. After World War II, in contrast to the situation with Germany in Europe, there was no attempt at evoking a Japanese apology to and reconciliation with China.”
“A peace treaty and the restoration of full diplomatic relations with China did not come about until October, 1978, more than 30 years after the official end of the war.”
“Furthermore, the restoration of official ties did not come from a Japanese initiative, but only after a Washington green light was given with Richard Nixon’s historic meeting with Mao Zedong in 1972.”
“In the ensuing decades, though there were occasional tentative steps towards a Sino-Japanese rapprochement, in general the atmosphere continued to be poisoned through both Japanese national developments and external policies.”
“Indeed, the hosting of the recent G-7 summit in Ise was itself if not a provocation, at the very least insensitive. The Ise Shrine is the grand temple of the nativist Shinto, the state religion that the pre-war Japanese political and military leaders used as a tool of aggression and oppression.”
“Japan’s insensitivity to its Asian neighbors can also be illustrated by the ceremony in Hiroshima.”
“Though commemoration was made of the Japanese war dead, Abe failed even to mention that there were also 50,000 Koreans (indentured/slaved labor) who perished in Hiroshima (and another 20,000 in Nagasaki).”
“Japan’s visceral acting in cahoots with the West, principally its US ally, with the objective of excluding China, can be seen from a number of recent developments. Although virtually all the US allies, both Western and Asian, willingly accepted to become founding members of the Chinese-established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Japan refused.”
“It has, on the other hand, been a very enthusiastic member of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which not only excludes China, but is primarily a geopolitical tool aimed at China."
“The Asia-Pacific is not at war, but nor is it in peace. Tensions are high; distrust and suspicion prevail. To a considerable extent, this arises from China’s rise to great global power status. “
Lehmann feels that "it is time for Japan to ‘re-enter’ Asia”. “And especially, it should make peace with China. If the two largest economies of Asia are at daggers drawn, the consequences cannot be conducive to peace and prosperity. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Japan was the aggressor and China the victim”.
Lehmann suggested, “Whether Abe should go or should not go to Pearl Harbor to make amends is a bit irrelevant. That is not where the powder keg is.” “Where Abe should go, and urgently, is to Nanjing. Next year, 2017, will mark the 80th anniversary of the massacre, when over a period of six weeks in late 1937, troops of Imperial Japan killed hundreds of thousands of peoples and raped an estimated 20,000 women. The wounds have far from healed; they continue to fester.”
Lehmann concluded by saying that “By Abe visiting Nanjing and paying homage to those who were killed, brutalized and raped, Japan would be taking one giant step to peace in the Asia-Pacific. The alternative is what we have now; it is not sustainable.”
Whether Abe will consider such a move is questionable. We suspect that Abe will stay put and continue to be a populist politician, and follows the current militaristic trend rather than being a great statesman and true leader who leads his country to a greater stable and prosperous nation at peace with all its neighbors.
If the U.S. really cares about the peace and prosperity in Asia, as our politicians always claim, drastic steps will have to be taken. Here are suggestions for President Obama to consider during his last few months in the Oval Office:
1. The U.S. should recognize that the world has changed a great deal in the past couple of decades. It is meaningless to continue to act as the world's sole hegemon. We have to accept a world with multiple centers of influence.
2. Stop playing the “South China Sea" games. We never experienced any obstacle for freedom of navigation in South China Sea. Displaying our air and naval forces around the islands there is foolish. Instead, bilateral meetings with China should be initiated to work out the differences between the U.S. and China and to preserve mutual interests and peace of the region.
3. Just as Lehmann suggested in his article, the U.S. should urge Japan to take a sincere remorse attitude of its WWII war crimes towards its neighbors, especially China, and go to Nanjing in December 2017 for the 80th anniversary commemoration of the Nanjing massacre to show its sincerity in action. Our new president may want to attend the activity as well. Let the world know that, the US, as a former ally of China, would not want to forget the crimes committed by the Imperial Japanese army during the war and show our empathy for the suffering of the victims and their families.
The U.S. would be a true leader of the world if it can accomplish the above.