Wednesday, October 19, 2005
At what price Koizumi's homage to Japan's war dead . . .WENRAN JIANG
18 October 2005
The Globe and Mail
The setting is the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo. The sole cast member is Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. And his ritual is to honour Japan's war dead, including thousands of convicted war criminals from the Second World War.
Mr. Koizumi's pilgrimage to the controversial Shinto site yesterday, his fifth such annual practice since taking office in 2001, is a staged act of defiance against growing domestic and international criticism. Only two weeks ago, a Japanese high court ruled that Mr. Koizumi's acts violated the constitutional separation of religion and state. Asian countries, former victims of Japanese militarism, have always opposed such a visit.
Mr. Koizumi's latest action pushed Japan's relations with its neighbours to a new low. The Chinese were particularly irritated by the timing — they were celebrating the return of their astronauts from a five-day, Earth-orbiting journey. While Seoul cancelled President Roh Moo-hyun's meeting with Mr. Koizumi at next month's APEC meeting, Beijing sent home Japanese diplomats attending high-level bilateral consultations and scrapped this weekend's visit by Japan's foreign minister.
The long-term damage to the region is much more severe. Unlike in Europe, where Germany's thorough reflection of history has led to continental reconciliation, East Asia has suffered from Japan's lack of remorse for its past wars. Yes, Japanese leaders have issued a number of apologies, including a statement that Mr. Koizumi read on Aug. 15, the date of Japan's defeat 60 years ago. But many remarks made by senior members of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has ruled Japan in the postwar era, have either rejected these apologies or undermined them.
To those who were victimized by Japanese militarism and to those who have a clear sense of history and justice, the annual visits to Yasukuni by Mr. Koizumi and a large number of Japanese parliamentarians simply make a mockery of their “deep remorse” rhetoric.
Mr. Koizumi and company justify the shrine visit as following Japanese culture and tradition. But Yasukuni is the creation of the Japanese state in the late 19th century for overseas expansion and imperialist war efforts. It was the designated institution for state Shinto indoctrination and the propaganda and mobilization centre of Japanese militarism; the sole purpose of its existence was to convince Japanese that, if they killed and died for the Emperor, their souls would be enshrined there. The Yasukuni culture is one of blind obedience to a totalitarian state, and the Yasukuni tradition is one of colonialism and imperialism through war and aggression.
Mr. Koizumi insists that he goes to Yasukuni only to show respect to those who sacrificed themselves for the country's prosperity today and to pray for peace. Yet, if one takes a tour of the state-of-the-art war museum attached to the shrine, it is clear that the shrine demands all those who pray there to live the way those enshrined there lived. And you find there a history in which Japan has done no wrong: All sacrifices were for Japan's defence, and for liberating Asians from white imperialism. The Yasukuni narrative of history is not the elimination of twisted nationalism but the revival of it. The Yasukuni notion of peace is to glorify war criminals as peace lovers. And the Yasukuni interpretation of sacrifice is the total rejection of the international war tribunal's verdict on Japan's war criminals.
Four years ago, in exchange for right-wing support for his bid as prime minister, Mr. Koizumi pledged to make annual visits to Yasukuni. He then manipulated the public's resentment of foreign criticism by presenting himself as standing tall. He managed to remain popular, and even received a majority in the latest lower-house election. Unfortunately, the very limited challenge Mr. Koizumi has faced domestically for his Yasukuni venture is also a reflection of Japan's failure as a nation to collectively face its past war responsibilities.
Internationally, Mr. Koizumi has lost credibility in Asia. On the other hand, while it is hard to imagine a German chancellor visiting a Nazi memorial and telling the world it's just for peace, Mr. Koizumi has escaped from much wider international condemnation.
“To go is hell; and not to go is hell, too,” Mr. Koizumi told his aides when trying to assess the fallout before his first official trip to Yasukuni in 2001. His gamble has certainly kept him at the edge of hell. But for the Japanese nation not to go over the edge with him, a path to the future must be constructed while the way to Yasukuni is firmly blocked.
Wenran Jiang, twice a Japan Foundation fellow, is associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Beyond the politics of power
In its reporting on the 16th Central Committee's fifth plenum, which has just concluded, the overseas media has focused on elite politics - with much speculation about a power struggle and personnel changes. Yet, this overemphasis on the top leadership comes at the expense of a comprehensive analysis of mainland politics, economy and social changes at this very important stage of
Many fail to realise that
That said, every new leadership takes certain steps to consolidate power, and the team headed by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao is no exception. But specific circumstances and factors differentiate this leadership from previous ones.
First, Mr Hu does not have Deng Xiaoping's personal clout, and has to rely more on the collective decision-making process. Other leaders are likely to put the emphasis on policy rather than group around an individual or a particular region. In that sense, the obsession with the factional affiliations of certain top party members may be heading in the wrong direction.
Second, there was no promotion of Mr Hu's future successors at the plenum, as had been widely anticipated. After only a few years in power, he may not have the kind of power base to reshuffle the leadership. Nor does he necessarily want to be seen to be pursuing such an agenda while trying to project a closer-to-the-people image.
Mr Hu and Mr Wen have other priorities: they have realised that unless they emphasise balanced development, more equality, harmony in society and measures to protect the environment,
Two major pillars of the new approach to solving
Both goals are, in fact, what the mainland really needs today. The irony is that Mr Hu and Mr Wen seem to have decided that they can implement these by maintaining tight control, at the expense of more political openness and civil liberty.
That is a fatal mistake. For without political reforms, broader participation, an open press and strengthened rule of law, a harmonious society and the scientific concept of development will remain largely political slogans. And the outside world will continue to be obsessed with the elite power struggle within Zhongnanhai.
Wenran Jiang is an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta,