I am disappointed at the latest commentary of Huang Xing, PRC Ambassador to Finland (Issue January 9-15, Viewpoint: “Yasukuni Shrine, a touchstone of Japan’s attitudes towards history and future”). Not all, but quite many points in his account are biased, erroneous, and politically motivated.
War history and postwar reconciliation in East Asia are still highly sensitive and complicated issues. Regarding China, there are definitely some other newsworthy topics Mr Huang could have clarified.
Examples may include human rights violations, persisting media censorship and manipulation, nationwide air pollution (which are also partly affecting neighbouring countries), rapid military spending and expansion in its neighboring waters. Those subjects are timely as well as eminent, at least more appealing to the attention of local readership. I even believe that Mr Huang should have proactively accounted for these states of affairs without particular request.
As for Yasukuni, unlike common knowledge or misconception, the dispute arose more recently. In fact, the shrine visit by Japanese top political leaders had been practiced awhile and regularly even after enshrining Class A criminals. But China (and Korea as well) had since never officially protested it until around the late-1980s. It is China who all of a sudden changed its stance and started politicising the Yasukuni visit. It is thus wrong to assume that Japan is becoming more militaristic. One would better suggest that China be more accountable for its post-war opportunism and sudden behavioural changes.
Public opinions in Japan over Yasukuni seem divided, sober but ambivalent. To be honest I am rather critical of Abe’s latest visit not upon moral, but upon pure political and strategic grounds. Note that Japan guarantees freedom of speech, open history inquiry, and opinion diversity, much equivalents in Finland, yet none of which exists in China under communist rule. Their unilateral claims or Chinese people’s “unified” voice must therefore be double-checked and put into perspective.
It is also somewhat ironic that Mr Huang addressed his viewpoint to local Finnish people and media while not referring to Finnish post-war affairs. Finnish wartime president Risto Ryti and seven other political leaders were found guilty on counts of war crimes, crimes against peace and humanity – similar charges or “Class A” category (made retroactively) at the Tokyo Tribunal against Japan’s wartime leaders.
Have Russia or any former Allied countries ever prevented Finnish political leaders from visiting their “Class-A criminals” buried in Hietaniemen hautausmaa cemetery? Or should Finns stop paying homage to their war dead out there if Russia or China suddenly accuse them as “Nazi collaborators”?
What if a “revisionist” statement like, “Well, we fought a war solely for our independence, no link to Nazis” is publicly expressed? Should it be immediately banned, for such provocation threatens the post-war international regime? Taking such a Finnish analogy, we are better able to realise what China demands from Japan is unreasonable, out of line, or irrelevant.
It is clearly demonstrated that Japan has firmly held a peace-loving touchstone. It has contributed profoundly to peace and prosperity in both regional and global levels for over half a century since the end of WWII. The country has never developed weapons of mass destruction, nor sold conventional arms or other military equipment overseas despite its sufficient capabilities. Japan has managed to stay calm and restraint in face of a non-stop series of jingoistic moves by China on the East China Sea. Contrary to Mr Huang’s view, Japan does really learn some lesson from its history (and failure). Obviously it is China who is now trying to change the post-war international regime or status quo in Asia/Pacific regions by force or coercion for its favour.
“No country is allowed to whitewash past aggression,” claims Mr Huang. True, and China is by no means exceptional. Their acts of aggression in Korea, Tibet, Uyghur, Vietnam – all after WWII – should not be justified. We also better not be blind to sufferings and disasters the communist officials have inflicted upon their co-nationals as well as ethnic minorities. Note that some of these tragedies above are not even historical, but contemporary and continuing to this day.
Regards, Nori Watanabe
PhD student, Faculty of Social Sciences University of Helsinki