Beijing must halt its anti-Japanese propaganda campaign and instead work with its neighbours to create a secure and prosperous future
China has been conducting a global propaganda campaign against Japan, the most recent example of which was the January 10 Washington Post opinion piece by Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States. But his op-ed was wrong, and China’s leaders clearly misread global attitudes. It is not Japan that most of Asia and the international community worry about; it is China.
First of all, the Yasukuni Shrine, which was the focus of Beijing’s most recent round of anti-Japan commentaries, is a place where the souls of those who sacrificed their lives for the country since the Meiji Restoration of 1868 have been enshrined. Japanese people visit the shrine to pray for the souls of the war dead – more than 2.4 million – not to glorify war or honour or justify a small number of Class A war criminals.
Last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the shrine and Chinreisha, a memorial for all war dead around the world, to make a pledge for everlasting peace based on his deep remorse for the past. Like many other Japanese people, he said he wished to visit the shrine in sincere remembrance of the suffering and sacrifice of Japan’s soldiers and non-Japanese alike. He did not go to pay homage to Class A war criminals nor to hurt the feelings of the Chinese or Korean people.
It is important to note that China began raising this issue with political motives in 1985. At that time, more than 20 visits by prime ministers to Yasukuni had gone unchallenged, even after 14 Class A war criminals had been enshrined there in 1978.
The government of Japan has repeatedly expressed deep remorse and heartfelt apologies regarding the war. So did the prime minister after his recent visit to Yasukuni; he said that “Japan must never wage a war again” based on “the severe remorse for the past”. He has inherited and will honour the statements of previous prime ministers. Prime Minister Abe has accepted the judgements of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, and he has never said that Japan did not commit aggression.
I cannot predict whether China’s anti- Japan propaganda campaign will work inside China, but it certainly does not resonate internationally. In most of Asia and the rest of the world, Japan has among the highest favourability rating of any nation in public polls.
What has become a serious, shared concern for the peace and security of the Asia-Pacific region is not our prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine but, rather, China’s unparalleled military build-up and its use of military and mercantile coercion against neighbouring states. The most recent example of this is Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an air defence identification zone. China has escalated the intrusion of government vessels into the territorial sea around the Senkaku Islands and in waters claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and other maritime states in the region.
The Japanese people have pride and confidence in the peaceful course we have taken over the past 70 years and are moving toward the future. Unlike China, Japan has not once fired a gun in combat since World War II. Japan has made major economic and technology contributions to help boost economic development in Asia, including in China. Japan has consistently upheld freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law since the war and has contributed to the peace and prosperity of Asia, in solidarity with the United States as allies.
Japan’s defence posture is quite modest. In contrast, as a result of annual increases of more than 10 per cent, China has quadrupled its military expenditures, which are hardly transparent, in the past decade. During the same period, Japan has decreased its expenditures by 6 per cent. We have increased our defence budget for the first time in 11 years, only by 0.8 per cent in the current budget.
The path that post-war Japan is taking as a peaceful nation will never change. Polls show that the American people have deep trust in Japan, which is reciprocated, and that few Americans fear Japanese militarisation. Unfortunately, China does not allow open debate and flow of information, and thus Chinese people cannot see the truth that people throughout the world see, nor can they criticise distorted views propagated by their government.
Nevertheless, we remain hopeful. China is an important neighbour, and we are hoping to build a good relationship with it. Prime Minister Abe is ready for talks with President Xi Jinping without any preconditions.
We fervently hope that China will cease its dogmatic anti-Japanese propaganda campaign and work with us toward a future-oriented relationship. Ultimately, the international community will be swayed by China’s deeds, not by anachronistic propaganda.
Kenichiro Sasae is Japan’s ambassador to the United States. He wrote this article for The Washington Post.