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Future of China-Japan ties hinges on attitude toward aggression

2015-03-24 17:06 Xinhua Web Editor: Gu Liping

A recent statement by Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida may signal the island nation is reconsidering its handling of historical issues under the pressure from neighbors and the international community.

"Japan is willing to strive for the improvement of bilateral ties in the spirit of facing history squarely and advancing toward the future," Kishida told his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at a trilateral meeting to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and the creation of the United Nations in Seoul.

Saturday's talks were held three years after the last meeting in April 2012.

In the intervening years, the talks were suspended as Japan's ties with China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) soured due to rows over historical and territorial issues, including a provocative visit by the Japanese Prime Minister to the Yasukuni Shrine, a spiritual symbol of Japan's aggression which honors war criminals, in December 2013.

As the three Asian nations vow to improve trilateral cooperation, a thorough reflection of Japan's aggressive history must be confronted during a year with several anniversaries related to WWII.

Former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama set an example during his speech on the 50th anniversary of the war's end in 1995, in which he publicly apologized for the atrocities Japanese troops committed during World War II.

The principle of the Murayama statement has been followed by successive prime ministers. However, none have matched the weight of Murayama's powerful statement and their deeds have not lived up to their words.

In recent years, Asian neighbors have observed the words and deeds by Japan's leaders to cover up wartime history and openly challenge the international order set after WWII.

Despite iron-clad facts, there have always been voices in Japan seeking to whitewash the country's wartime atrocities through denial of the Nanjing Massacre and the issue of "comfort women", in which women were coerced to serve the Japanese Imperial Army during the war.

The Japanese government has spared no efforts in trumpeting the nation's post-WWII achievements and publicizing so-called "proactive pacifism" while attempting to send its Self-Defense Forces into battles abroad by lifting the ban on the right to collective defense.

Fundamentally, these acts can be understood as excuses to distract people, creating an atmosphere in which Japan does not need to reflect on its aggression any more.

The actions have invoked protests by peace-loving people in Japan and were boycotted by victim nations.

Even Germany, also a fascist power in WWII, has admonished Japan's behavior. In her recent visit to Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said "facing history squarely" and "generous gestures" by its neighbors are necessary to mend ties.

Instead of undermining Japan's international prestige, Murayama's statement 20 years ago promoted relations between Japan and its neighbors, in particular with China and the ROK, and contributed to stability in East Asia.

In contrast, Japan's distorted perception on wartime history in recent years has not only strained bilateral relations but also prevented the nation from enjoying the full fruits of cooperation with its neighbors.

Statistics from the Japanese government show bilateral trade between China and Japan contracted in both 2012 and 2013, with Japan's exports to China shrinking more than 10 percent in both years.

The historical lesson for Japan is clear.

Only by shouldering the responsibility of aggression history and adopting a consistent perception on the issue can Japan embrace a brighter future with China and other Asian neighbors.

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