Streltsov D.V. Post-war Relations between Japan and East Asian Countries

Post-war Relations between Japan and East Asian Countries - Issues of the Historical Past

D.V. Streltsov

The article discusses the role and place of certain problems of the past in Japan`s relations with its neighboring countries, including the issue of "comfort women", the problem of history textbooks, as well as the issue of Japanese officials' visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. The article emphasizes that Japan encounters considerable difficulties in its diplomatic, economic and cultural contacts with China and the Republic of Korea because the above issues have not been settled. The article provides a detailed analysis of root causes behind non-existence of proper settlements of these issues, including those associated with differences in approaches to historical legacy of World War Two, as well as the "delay" phenomenon in terms of placing these issues on the international political agenda.

Key words: Past issues, victim complex, "comfort women", formal apologies, history textbooks, visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, Murayama`s declaration, "End the Post-war Regime" slogan.

Through the entire postwar period, history issues have featured prominently in international relations of postwar Japan with East Asian countries. The issues became even more acute during the post-bipolar period, against the backdrop of Japan`s increased efforts to position itself in the international community as a "normal country", i.e. a state, which is free from concerns about constitutional and other restrictions on military development, as well as its ambition to assume the role of a world political leader.

One of the major complaints of the neighboring countries is that Japan has not been held fully accountable for the villainous acts it committed during its imperial years. This relates in particular to World War Two, when the Japanese military occupation inflicted immense suffering on Asian nations. From 1931 until 1945, Japan was waging a war of aggression against East and South-East Asia. Japanese forces occupied population centers of strategic importance in China and other countries. Massacres and numerous episodes of violence against civilian population as well as war prisoners took place.

There are numerous assessments of the extent of damage, inflicted on the Asian nations. For instance, according to Chinese sources, more than 300 thousand civilian people, including elderly and children were killed, and 20 to 80 thousand women were raped by the Japanese forces in Nanking in July 1937[1].

There were forced labor mobilizations of civilian population of the occupied countries. In many areas of China, the Japanese military occupation triggered famine. The activities of Unit 731, a special-purpose team of the Japanese army, which was based in the vicinity of Harbin and was preparing bacterial warfare, became globally known. Victims of the Unit`s criminal experiments, among them Chinese and representatives of other countries, were infected with terminal illnesses, such as anthrax and bubonic plaque. There is evidence that soldiers of the Japanese Imperial army released rats infected with bubonic plaque in the countryside of Harbin, causing 30 thousand deaths of the Chinese in 1947[2].

Another example of violence was the forcible use of so-called "comfort women" (Koreans, Filipinos, Dutch and others), held as sexual slaves for the needs of the Japanese army. After the war, the "comfort women" issue became a cause of serious diplomatic disputes between Japan and South Korea, as well as the Philippines and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the punishment, inflicted by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and several Tribunals of other countries upon the wartime Government of Japan, was applied largely only to a limited group of high-ranking military politicians and bureaucrats. For instance, the Tokyo Tribunal convicted only 25 people, of which 7, including two former prime ministers, were hanged. The Emperor of Japan, who was the head of state during the war period, was exempted from any responsibility.

Almost all persons sentenced to prison were amnestied by the end of 1950s. In the end of 1970s, Hideki Tojo and other 13 "Class A" war criminals were secretly listed as honored martyrs of the nation, who had fallen in the battlefields. The lists are in the custody of Yasukuni Shrine. The majority of important political leaders of the postwar period did not merely begin their careers, but held senior positions in the government or in Japanese military-minded political parties of wartime. Among them are postwar Prime Ministers S. Yoshida, I. Hatoyama and N. Kishi.

Meanwhile, many issues of the past, which triggered conflicts in inter-state relationships between Japan and its neighbors, became the subject of dispute only in the recent period (from historical point of view). Even issues concerning World War Two were barely mentioned and quite frequently hushed up during the early postwar decades. For instance, the "comfort women" issue started to be regarded as a global political problem only in the beginning of 1980s, the problem of history textbooks - in the end of 1970s, the Yasukuni Shrine issue - in the first half of 1980s. The considerable "delay" in raising the issue of Japan`s responsibility made many Asian people feel that Japan had not carried proper punishment for the wartime crimes.

By the same token, the perception that the vision of history where Japan is shown in bad light is untrue and is the result of political propaganda, is a significant part of Japanese public opinion. It is widely held that the Japanese army advanced to the Asian countries in 1930s waging war for the righteous cause - to free Asian nations from the White colonization. Moreover, from that standpoint, relatively light punishments of Japanese war criminals, imposed by the Tokyo Military Tribunal, were the evidence, that all the talking about atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial army on the mainland were a fiction[3].

Such opinion was facilitated by the fact, that in most opponent countries, which have suffered the Japanese aggression, there was a prevailing view that undue focus on Japanese military crimes is impractical.

For instance, in the communist China of 1950s-1960s, criticism of Japan and even references to the pain suffered by Chinese people were considered "insensitive". Reluctance to annoy Tokyo also played its role: the aim of the Communist Party of China was to break free from the isolation and assure diplomatic recognition by Western countries, including Japan. Moreover, the Japanese military was not referred to as the worst enemy in the official Chinese historiography - Chiang Kai-shek`s regime was considered to be a far more dangerous enemy. Finally, in the official Chinese historiography there was a prevailing idea about the need to differentiate between responsibilities of the Japanese people and the Japanese authorities, whereby the Japanese people were themselves victims of a relatively small clique of militarists, and could not be accused of the crimes. Both Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai declared that responsibility for the aggression must be borne by a limited number of militarists, but not by the people of Japan"[4].

It was for that reason, that there were almost no significant investigations of Japanese wartime crimes in China in 1950s-60s. Beijing never raised the issue of reparations in its dealings with the Japanese, even on the eve of rebuilding bilateral relations, when China had much more grounds to do that.

Up until early 1970s, there was also no serious and formal criticism of Japan`s war past by South Korea. In 1956, when it came to resumption of diplomatic relations, South Korea willingly agreed to conclude a secret deal on "financial assistance" amounting to USD 500 million, which was referred to precisely as aid rather than reparations. It was largely done at the insistence of the Japanese party, reluctant to have attention focused on its responsibility; however, it should be kept in mind that compared to the beginning of democratic times, the South Korean dictator of that time Park Chung-hee had more opportunities to make personal decisions based on his own ideas of political expediency. It is worth noting that financial aid offered by Tokyo to Seoul helped modernize infrastructure and, in essence, became one of the factors of the Korean economic miracle. Nevertheless, as far as South Korean democrats are concerned, Park Chung-hee had committed an act of treachery, by making a humiliating deal with the Japanese[5].

The United Stated also had quite a liberal stance on historical sins of Japan. It may have been caused by the following: official American historiography focused on the Pacific War, i.e. on operations with the participation of US Army in the Pacific, whilst combat activities of Japan in China and other East and South-East Asia were, effectively, on the periphery of research interests. The Americans laid the main blame on Japan for the Pearl Harbor attack, which, in their eyes, outweighed any action of the Japanese army on the mainland. The topic of mistreatment of war prisoners who were Americans or citizens of US ally states received certain coverage in the American historiography, along with rapes of Filipino and Dutch women and their forced sexual exploitation at Japanese military brothels (it should, however, be noted, that it was clearly below the level of the "comfort women" issue, which exploded in the early 1990s, as it was interpreted as an inevitable and, certainly, not the worst evil of war time).

Moreover, the fact that occupational US administration started, at a certain point, to support "patriotic" ideas in the Japanese society, planning to use it as a lever for Japanese national consolidation with a view to combat communism (which was especially noticeable in the beginning of Korean war), also played a relevant role in disregard of crimes by the Imperial Japanese Army.

As to the Soviet Union, the postwar soviet historiography paid, understandably, more attention to the issues, related to the Great Patriotic War. The USSR`s entry into the war on Japan, aside from the fact that it was no longer a matter of the Great Patriotic War, but an episode of World War Two, was mostly presented not as a retribution for the crimes, committed by Japanese militarists, but as commitment to obligations towards USSR`s allies. Furthermore, in contrast to China and the Korean peninsula states, upon the signing of the joint Declaration in 1956, the USSR considered all issues in the bilateral relations with Japan resolved, which provided no basis for focusing on "unresolved" problems of the recent past. Moreover, it was also affected by the situation of geostrategic competition with Washington: consistent with the logic of the Cold War, Moscow kept on cherishing hope to retract Japan from its alliance with the USA or, to the very least, neutralize it. Since politically the relationship between the two countries remained strained, largely due to the unresolved issue of peace treaty, Moscow was reluctant to pose additional barriers on the way of unfreezing these relations. Sino-Soviet conflict, which broke out in 1960s also made its contribution - excessive propaganda attacks on Japan for the acts committed by the Imperial army, would be perceived as an indirect support of the Chinese vision of history. Under those conditions, Soviet historiography refrained from active negative branding of Japan for the crimes of wartime, focusing its efforts on an emerging ghost of Japanese militarism.

In Japan itself, in wide public opinion, the vision of the country's unappealing historical past presented itself in a non-critical attitude, beatification of reality, and unwillingness to distance itself from pre-war government system. Features of the Japanese national psychology also played their role. The chairman of Asia Foundation A. Horvat considers them to be among the causes of what is called "collective amnesia"[6]. The features are: greater role of the "shame" notion, greater degree of unwillingness to acknowledge one's own faults and to repent properly, as well as greater vulnerability to the risk of "losing one`s face" in the eyes of others. Moreover, as far as the Japanese are concerned, it is "poor manners" to recollect one`s own sufferings.

However, it would be wrong to declare everything the result of national psychology. The causes relating to domestic and foreign policies made a much larger contribution.

To begin with, the foreign policy conditions, under which Japan was developing its post war diplomacy, did not provide a favorable ground for self-criticism. Japan had to recover its economic grounds in East Asian countries, which required rehabilitation in the eyes of local public opinion. That is why Tokyo`s Asian diplomacy was largely built on a fight against undesirable "historical memory". The task was to create an image of Japan, which was no longer bearing a military threat (for instance, it was this idea, which was asserted in the Fukuda Doctrine in 1977). Therefore, "masochistic" vision of history was not formally welcomed, as it drew "unhealthy" attention and, as a result, affected the bright image of Japan. This was the point in which Japan differed from postwar Germany presenting itself as a state, which is not a successor of the prewar Nazi regime and, therefore, does not fear to be active to use the idea of insistent denial of its own Nazi past to advance an image abroad.

Another difference from Germany was that generally negative attitudes towards its own military past in Japan coexisted with a victim complex, i.e. with a sense of their own sufferings, which was bringing a psychological comfort on the level of collective consciousness. There was nothing of the kind in postwar Germany.

There are many reasons for such consistency of the victim complex, which was reproducing itself over several postwar generations. During the occupation, it was the US authorities, which welcomed the idea of a victimized nation in order to abate the hostility and improve manageability of the country. Introduction of the idea that the Japanese nation itself became a victim of the military regime, into the collective consciousness, helped to draw a line between the military clique and the general public, which had suffered from its actions. The separation of the nation and the government to different sides led to a logical conclusion that the Japanese nation should not be held accountable for the criminal decisions of its leaders. That, in turn, contributed to the reinforcement of legitimacy of occupational authorities and created an additional barrier against resurgence of militarism[7].

Such approach naturally legitimized Emperor Hirohito, who the ruling elite managed to separate from the dark image of the military regime, with the American authorities' blessing. Leiden University professor R. Kersten holds a view, that it reflects the "defeat revisionism", which is based on consensus between the Japanese conservative elite and the American authorities[8].

The victim complex was fueled by argument that the Japanese nation itself incurred tremendous losses and was exposed to unimaginable sufferings, and, therefore, had already paid for its sins. About 3 million people of Imperial Japan`s 74 million population, including 800 thousand civilians died during the war. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused deaths of several hundred thousand people, and the sufferings of "hibakusha" continued for many postwar decades. Almost all Japanese are aware of the aerial "carpet-bombings" of Japan by the Americans in spring-summer of 1945. For instance, almost 100 thousand people passed away because of the bombings and the fire they brought up in Tokyo, on March 10, 1945.

Aside from victim complex, one more factor that affected public perception of World War Two results, was liberal policy of the American occupational authorities, who in their fight against the communist threat concluded a deal with the Japanese political bureaucratic "establishment", abandoning the German model of mass shake-up of the government machine, and partly exempted them from responsibility for collaboration with the military regime. The terms of the Peace Treaty of San Francisco were also quite tolerant towards Japan - it was almost completely exempt from any reparations payments.

Sentences of the Tokyo Tribunal, which were relatively moderate compared to the Nuremberg sentences, combined with the perception of Japanese guilt during World War Two as a matter of their own victimization, provided the ground for many Japanese to feel no less victims, than the countries of East Asia affected by the Japanese aggression. Some researchers believe that it was one of the reasons, why the Japanese proved unable to realize all the scale of suffering they had caused Asian people[9].

The victim complex was promoted by the works of conservative scientists as well as the efforts of official authorities, which repeatedly raised a question of reinforcement of "patriotic education" in the country. Special focus was put on historical facts, which proved that Japan had been unfairly treated by the coalition countries. Theory that the Tokyo Tribunal was the "court of winners", and its decisions were biased from the very start became most popular. According to that theory, Class A war criminals, sentenced and executed by the decision of the Tribunal, has already "atoned for the sins" of the nation, therefore, their canonization in Yasukuni Shrine constitutes neither legal, nor ethical problem. Quite characteristic in this regard is the statement made by the Minister of Finance Y. Noda in August 2011, who stated that canonized in Yasukuni Shrine Class A criminals, "are no longer considered to be criminals", as they had already been held accountable in accordance with the legal process (pardoned, released after serving their prison sentence or executed) [10].

Interestingly, the victim complex also manifested itself in the relations of Japan with the Soviet Union, namely in Tokyo's approach to the issues of the Northern Territories dispute. Japan kept on maintaining the position that the Yalta Conference agreements, which determined the fate of the Kurils, were concluded behind Japan`s back, therefore, Japan is an affected party in its territorial conflict with Moscow. The USSR`s entry into the war on Japan in August 1945 was also perceived through the lens of victimization by the majority of Japanese historians. Many Japanese saw it as the evidence of treachery and grave injustice (related to the denunciation of the Neutrality Pact by Moscow), rather than a historical event, helping make the end of World War Two come a lot sooner. (There is a sharp contrast with the attitude of many Japanese towards atomic bombings of Japan by the Americans, which were precisely perceived as such)[11].

A victimized mentality of the Japanese is a curious phenomenon. It should seem that victimization must produce revanchism, as evidenced by historical background of the Weimar Republic. However, in reality, the victim complex played a diametrically opposite role at various stages of Japan`s postwar history. In the early postwar decades, victimization was rather cultivating pacifism in public mind, serving as a kind of political resource for opposition-minded forces of left wing and centrist orientation. The ruling party also could not but take it into account, as it was claiming the role of the nationwide political force: even though the view that the Constitution needed to be reviewed was relatively prevailing in LDP, the issue of amendments has never even been placed on the political agenda.

However, from the end of 1970s, when Japan had already gained economic power, and begun to actively position itself as a state of regional or, even, global level, the victim complex played already in favor of historical revisionism, which manifested itself as appeals "to take stock of the results" of the postwar policy, to amend the Constitution, foisted on them by the Americans, to rebuild full military power and to become a "normal state". As it was noted by professor Y. Soeya of Keio University, "the combination of historical revisionism and "active diplomacy", oriented toward the Western values, is a result of the trauma of consciousness, which Japan suffered due to its defeat in the war and occupation period thereafter, which, as many consider, contributed to bringing about what is known as "lack of independence" of postwar Japan". [12]

Globally, on the political level, the issue of historical memory came out frequently throughout the entire postwar period as a matter of formal apologies. Japan was making every effort so that the formal apology issue, related not only to Word War Two period, but also to much earlier time, including the second half of the XIX century, when Japan was carrying out its expansionary policy on the Korean peninsula, would not be at the center of the political agenda in its relations with East Asian countries.

Meanwhile, China would now and then give priority to the apology issue, thus giving it special importance. Within the sinocentric and vassal-tribunal system, an external display of the ceremonial becomes significantly more important, than the content of the relations. Russian researcher G.F. Kunadze points out, that it is not only the fact of apology that is of great importance, but also the place and the time chosen to extend it, the form in which it is extended and the manner, in which it is accepted[13]. In this regard, in Beijing, 1972 China`s position was very characteristic during the negotiations on restoration of relations. China demanded a clear apology from Japan for its war past. Meanwhile, because of the form of the apology, chosen by the Japanese Prime Minister K. Tanaka, expressed in the phrase "We apologize for the inconvenience", the negotiations were on the verge of a breakdown, causing strong rejection and even rage of Zhou Enlai, who was representing China. Only Mao Zedong managed to reconcile the two Prime Ministers, urging them "to look ahead without looking back"[14].

Since the early 1980s, Japanese leaders extended their apologies to Asian nations more than ten times in different manners and on different occasions. The apology issue became especially relevant in the beginning of 1990s, when Japan set a challenge to strengthen its global political role, which required the support of Asian countries (Japan had been positioning itself as an Asian representative within G8, UN and other international forums). Straightway, several Japanese prime ministers delivered statements, condemning the military past of the country. For instance, on August 15, 1993, M. Hosokawa, in his speech at an annual ceremony dedicated to the end of World War Two, acknowledged that the war Japan had waged was, indeed, aggressive. In the post war history, that was the first confession of such kind - earlier, Japanese officials had preferred to completely avoid such term as "aggression".

On August 15, 1995, T. Murayama, a socialist prime minister, delivering a speech at the anniversary of the end of World War Two, stated: ""During a certain period in not-too-distant past, Japan, pursuing a wrong public policy, embarked on a road to war, which led the Japanese nation to a fatal crisis. Through its colonial rule and aggression, Japan inflicted tremendous damage and suffering on the people of many countries, especially on the Asian nations". [15] Further, Japanese prime minister expressed his deepest feelings of remorse and stated his heartfelt apology".

Nowadays, Murayama statement is considered to be the strongest statement among the leaders of Japan, which expresses the condemnation of the dark sides of the country`s history. Its most important point is that the acknowledgement of guilt for the past faults let Japan lay strong grounds for the relations with Asian countries. Later on, all Japanese governments expressed their commitment to that statement.

After T. Murayama, there were more high-profile statements, delivered by Prime Minister J. Koizumi. Speaking at the Asian-African Summit in Jakarta in April 2005, the Japanese leader expressed his apology and declared that Japan would never become a military power. And on August 15, 2005, on the anniversary of the day when the Potsdam Declaration was adopted by Japan, J. Koizumi declared his "humble acknowledgement" of the historical facts and his "sincere remorse"[16].

Despite the numerous apology statements by Japanese leaders, this issue continued to arise in the relations of Japan with its neighbors. Clearly, the sustainability of this phenomenon cannot be explained only with the insufficient sincerity on the part of Japan. It is due to the fact, that the parties judge the problem from different positions. In Japan, for instance, it is a widely held view that Japanese leaders have already apologized for the military past on numerous occasions, whereas Japan, with its economic support to China, South Korea and other Asian countries, has more than atoned its sins, therefore, this issue may be considered to be settled. In addition, a new generation has grown up in Japan, which does not have to apologize for the sins of their fathers. Expressing such view, S. Takaichi, an LDP Diet member, declared in 1995, during the debates regarding the resolution on Word War Two 50th anniversary: "Since I don`t belong to the war generation, I don`t have any feelings of remorse" [17].

Meanwhile, many Asian countries, especially China and South Korea, have turned the apology issue into additional political means of blackmailing Japan, in order to negotiate certain concessions in other areas. Economic reasons play their vital role, meaning, they have a lower economic status, compared to Japan. According to Y. Onuma, a Japanese researcher, realization that their countries may not be able to come up with an adequate response (e.g., an imposition of efficient economic sanctions on Japan), should public comments on past history made by the Japanese officials have any insulting meaning, made them harbor dissatisfaction, even when the Japanese confirmed its repentance [18].

Another aspect of the history issue, which now and then manifests itself in the relations between Asian countries, is controversies in history textbooks.

From the beginning of 1950s, there has been an ongoing discussion in Japan, on issues related to the history textbooks for senior years of secondary school. In Japan, history textbooks must be authorized by the Ministry of Education, which is entitled to orders to correct their content. Representation and interpretation of history events in the books have become a matter of political confrontation: the officials of the Ministry of Education are promoting a more "patriotic" view of the history, whilst left-minded and pacifist progressive historians insist on more objective history coverage. Thus, the issue of history textbooks turned to be a reflection of "the 1955 system", based on domestic political confrontation of conservative and left parties of the country.

In 1950s, the Textbook Authorization and Research Council of the Ministry of Education had already been staffed with conservatively oriented experts, who supported the reinforcement of "patriotic" elements in history education, which suggest a stronger focus on the Emperor Institution and interests of the Japanese State. From time to time, the Ministry of Education instructed the authors to change the texts of submitted textbooks.

The opponent of the Ministry of Education during the Cold War period was the teachers' union (All Japan Teachers and Staff Union) , which was under a strong influence of the Socialist Party, as well as a number of independent professors, belonging to a liberal wing of the Japanese intelligentsia. The most prominent among them is Saburo Ienaga, a professor of the University of Tokyo, who, with varying success, sued the Ministry of Education for the enforced corrections of the content of textbooks.

The instructions of the Ministry of Education concerned separate terms and formulations, as well as whole paragraphs of the textbooks` manuscripts. For instance, the officials repeatedly argued against the defining of the Pacific War as "reckless"[19]. Under the pretext of the lack of unmistakable records to confirm certain facts, the panel of experts demanded to have certain inconvenient statements "softened", to streamline the text or completely remove references to certain facts etc. For instance, it concerned the assessment of the Nanking Massacre scale, where the number of casualties, according to various estimates, varied from "not a very large number" to 80 thousand raped and 450 thousand murdered[20].

Interpretation of the Okinawa Battle, where the Japanese Imperial army appeared in a poor light is another example. In the beginning of 1980s, the Ministry of Education instructed the author of one of the textbooks to remove the episode about massive suicides of the Okinawans, especially about the role the Japanese army played in instigating them[21]. The Ministry`s requirements triggered multiple protests among the Okinawans, For instance, in summer 2007 there were the largest demonstrations held in the last few decades.

The textbook issue`s acuteness on the agenda of domestic politics is related to its ideological implication. The chairman of Asia Foundation A. Horvat wrote: "nowadays it is not the textbooks, that matter, but it is the fact that while being unable to reconcile, critics and government supporters resort to the textbooks, looking for clear evidence of how the Government of Japan interprets the past of its nation"[22].

In the postwar history, there were several outbursts of public interest to the textbook issue. However, the problem reached the international level only in the beginning of 1980s, when a new round of the Cold War started and Japan was more definite to position itself as a faithful ally of the USA, united, as described by Y. Nakasone, by "one fate". After 1980, when LDP managed to oust the political left and to regain its strong position in the Diet, the ideological issues, among which "patriotic education" was of quite importance, were given a clear political priority. It was then, that the government began using the history textbooks as a tool of ideological struggle.

In 1981-82, the Ministry of Education authorized a textbook that had a new vision of many historical events based on whitewashing of the policy of the Japanese state. For instance, the actions of the Japanese Imperial army on the mainland during the Pacific war were not characterized as "aggression", but merely as "advance". Japanese colonial rule in Korea was also overviewed in a positive light. In the new textbook, the "Korean independence movement" was described as "Korean riots"[23], which is typical. The publication of the new textbook caused not just official protests by Beijing and Seoul, but also massive anti-Japanese protests in China and South Korea, as well as discontent of the South-East Asian countries, where the historical memory about Japanese aggression was still very strong.

Bearing in mind, that the development of diplomatic contacts with East Asian countries was an important foreign policy task for Japan, among the criteria of textbook authorization the Ministry of Education had to adopt a so-called "paragraph on the neighboring countries" (kinrin shokoku joko), according to which the textbooks' manuscripts should contribute to development of Japan`s friendly relations with Asian countries. As a result, textbooks published after 1982 became more balanced and self-critical.

In the middle of 1990s, right-wing nationalists strengthened their positions in the Japanese political arena, calling for an end to the "masochistic view" of history. In 1997, the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform was established, aiming to create a "patriotic" history textbook. According to one of the Society`s leaders, a professor of the University of Tokyo Fujioka Nobukatsu, history textbooks have become "an international policy tool" [24], whereas the Japanese bent their historical views under the winners, instead of thinking it over themselves [25]. As a result, in 2002, a "New History Textbook" for senior secondary schools was published. In it, the Nanking Massacre was defined as "Nanking Incident", and the war Japan had waged was characterized as "an act of self-protection" parallel with the liberation of Asian nations from the colonial rule of the West. The textbook did not cover the "comfort women" issue at all.

The publication of the book was severely criticized by China, South Korea and a number of Asian countries. In April 2005, after numerous stages of authorization, the textbook was approved by the Ministry of Education, which prescribed about 130 corrections in it[26]. However, the decision whether to use the textbook in the learning process lay in the hands of regional education committees. China and South Korea made acrimonious objections. However, international political implications related to the textbook were much more significant, then it`s effect on the Japanese history education - when fervor subsided, it turned out, that the textbook`s market share was only 0.4%. [27]

There is one more issue that has a material impact on Japan`s relations with its neighboring countries, especially South Korea, - the issue of "comfort women". Its main point is that in a number of Asian countries that had suffered the Japanese aggression, there is a group of women claiming compensation from the Government of Japan. During the war, those women were subjected to sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers in so-called "comfort stations" (in other words, in houses of prostitution for soldiers) established with the support of Japanese military authorities.

There are various estimates of the number of women involved in sexual slavery during World War Two - from 20 to 200 thousand and even more. They were mainly Korean and Filipino women, though there were also representatives of other Asian nations (Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and other territories occupied by the Japanese Imperial Forces), as well as some European women (Dutch and Australian). "Comfort stations" were set up in China, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Burma, Thailand, New Guinea, French Indochina and other countries controlled by the Japanese army during the Pacific War.

The issue of "comfort women" became acute only in the beginning of 1990s. That was due to several reasons. Firstly, there was a rise of national self-awareness facilitated by the economic success achieved. Mainstreaming of the "comfort women" issue reflected an outburst of "economic nationalism" in these countries, as well as an upsurge of fight for economic and political leadership in the region, in the pursuit of which Japan started to lose its leading position. Thereby, the "comfort women" issue would act as one of the leverages against Japan in an increasingly tough competition.

Secondly, in 1990s, there was an outburst of interest in human rights issues in international organizations as well as within the realm of interstate relations. The "comfort women" issue, therefore, became noticeable within the wider context of international interest in human rights issues and became an integral part of the international political agenda.

Thirdly, in the wake of increasing importance of populism, the "comfort women" issue acquired domestic political visibility, turning in South Korea into a significant resource for maintaining political ratings of current administration.

Meanwhile, the specificity of the "comfort women" issue was in its humanitarian nature, related to the fact that, by that time there were only a few dozens of Korean women alive, who had worked at the "comfort stations". Bringing this issue to the forefront and paying compensations was seen as the last opportunity to pay a tribute to these women, belonging to a specific group of war victims.

So, why was the "comfort women" issue hushed up over several postwar decades? It was not only due to the above-mentioned policy of "relieved responsibility", promoted by the winner-countries, but also due to the delicacy and complexity of the issue, because for many "comfort women" a public discussion of the matter could result not just in "losing face", but also in stigmatization and ostracization by fellow citizens. Moreover, the governments of the countries, representing "comfort women", were reluctant to lodge corresponding claims, as these women were not necessarily recognized as victims, a least not to the full extent (which was especially true in respect of the South Korean government, which did not consider "comfort women" to be "worthy" enough to be included into the list of social groups of people, who suffered from violence during the war). Legal issues were also relevant: after 1965, when Japan and South Korea signed a number of agreements, whereby both countries abandoned their mutual claims related to the results of World War Two, "comfort women", correspondingly, could no longer file a compensation claim.

In 1990, irrefutable evidence was made public, showing that Japanese authorities had had a hand in the practice of involving women into sexual services to the Japanese military[28]. The first complaint against the Government of Japan was filed only in 1992, when for the first time a former Korean "comfort woman" gave public testimony. In the middle of 1990s, Japanese professor Y. Yoshimi published a number of documents from Japanese military archives, which proved that governmental support of the "comforting" practices was systematic[29]. Based on the evidence of Korean, Taiwanese and Filipino victims, the "comfort women" issue was put on the review agenda of the UN Human Rights Commission.



The reaction of Japanese government was contradictory: on the one hand, in 1992, Prime Minister K. Miyazawa expressed an official apology towards former "comfort women", on the other hand - Tokyo made it clear, that the terms of Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea represent no opportunity to seek redress through court[30]. Best known became the 1993 statement of the Secretary-General of the Cabinet Y. Kono, who officially acknowledged that the Government of Japan had been directly or indirectly involved in establishing and managing "comfort stations" and enlisted the services of "comfort women". Y. Kono then offered his apologies for the "profound pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds" inflicted on the victims.

However, the attempts of the Japanese authorities to resolve the compensation issue at the non-official level, through private donations, proved effectively vain. Largely it was due to the position of the South Korean government, which proposed a bigger compensation to every victim, who would refuse to accept money and apology letters from Japan[31].

Subsequently, the South Korean authorities repeatedly raised the "comfort women" issue at the official level and criticized the Government of Japan for its unwillingness to consider the issue of compensations. For instance, at the meeting with Japanese prime minister Y. Noda in December 2011, the president of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung-bak emphasized the importance of resolving the problem of "comfort women" for further development of bilateral relations, to which Japanese leader, repeating that all compensation issues had been resolved by the 1956 Treaty, stated the willingness to carry out all efforts to address the humanitarian dimension of the problem[32]. Meanwhile in January 2013, Government`s Secretary General Yoshihide Suga said that the authorities could not come to a clear-cut decision with regard to their solidarity with Kono`s statement[33]. In March 2014, Y. Suga stated that the Government of Japan would stick to Kono`s statement, but would carry out their own investigation concerning the circumstances under which this statement had appeared, including the role of South Korea, as well as the authenticity of the testimonies by "comfort women" [34].

The Japanese officials` visits to the Yasukuni Shrine - house for the souls of the Japanese, who sacrificed their lives for their native land - remain to be an acute issue on the list of history problems. Starting from 2000s, the Shrine has been repeatedly visited by the members of the Cabinet of Japan, including Prime Ministers. For instance, J. Koizumi during his term of office in 2001-2006, visited Yasukuni Shrine six times, and, what is more, in 2006 he did it on August 15, on the day when the Potsdam Declaration was adopted by Japan.

No doubt that to the Japanese officials, a visit to Yasukuni Shrine primarily has a domestic political meaning, helping the reinforcement of electoral support, in which population with conservative views holds a significant part. However, to the people of neighboring East and South-East Asian countries, such visits represent explicit evidence of the reviving of Japanese militarism. According to Korean researcher Park Cheol-hee, "in the eyes of Koreans and Chinese, such ritual can be interpreted as a political gesture trying to justify the military and colonial past, as Class A war criminals are canonized in Yasukuni Shrine".[35]

* * *

The task of fighting the "ghosts of the past", especially the ones related to the events of World War Two, has become firmly established on the list of Tokyo`s foreign political priorities. Removal of the "unjust" Enemy States Clause from the UN Charter has become one of the top priorities of Tokyo`s UN diplomacy; Japan responds negatively to attempts to draw attention to different events of the Pacific War, where Japanese militarism is viewed in a poor light. For instance, Tokyo responded quite nervously to Russia`s establishing a memorial day for the end of World War Two, and to Russia's reported plans to organize joint celebrations with China related to the end of World War Two, etc.

This aspect of foreign policy strategy became especially noticeable when Abe`s Second Cabinet took Office in December 2012. One of the main theses, stated by Abe during his election campaign was a slogan "End the Post-war Regime", i.e. with all legislative and other restrictions, which defined Japan`s pacifist status in the postwar period.

Quite equivocal, and sometimes even revisionist stance frequently taken by Abe`s second cabinet on history issues is worth noting. For instance, in a public statement in April 2013, the Prime Minister stated that there is no clear definition of "aggression", adding, that the notion of "aggression" is yet to be defined by the scientific community[36]. S. Abe publicly declared that the Government does not necessarily share the position, set out in Murayama`s statement. The same position was articulated by S. Takaichi, head of the LDP Policy Affairs Council, who on May 12, 2013, expressed disagreement with Murayama`s statement because the word "aggression" was used in it. "Back then (during wartime) it was believed, that our nation had to wage a resolute fight for its own survival", noticed S. Takaichi [37]. Only in the face of mass protests the Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide had to state, that the Government "aligns itself completely" with Murayama`s statement [38].

In his other public statement, S. Abe denied that there is substantial evidence that there existed forcible recruitments of Korean women for the "comfort stations"[39]. S. Abe`s bodacious behavior can be illustrated by a photo-session, where he is captured at the steering wheel of a Japanese military jet, with number 731 on the body, which calls up grim associations with the Japanese Unit 731, engaged in development of bacteriological weapon in Manchuria during World War Two. In 2013, S. Abe visited Yasukuni Shrine, which triggered strong responses not just from the neighboring Asian countries, but also from the USA, which expressed their "disappointment" in the doings of the Japanese leader.

Largely because the history issues remain unresolved, diplomatic, economic and cultural contacts of Japan with China, the Republic of Korea and many other countries of the South-East Asia continue to develop with great difficulty. However, it cannot be denied, that the history issues are being exploited by China and South Korea for their political benefits.

China is being particularly active in using the "historical trump". While offering harsh criticism of Japan`s intransigence in regard to the ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, for the visits to Yasukuni Shrine, for their "revisionist" statements concerning the issues of history , Beijing has been declining to conduct bilateral summit talks since 2012. The past issues have become well anchored within foreign policy tools of Beijing, to discredit Japan on the international scene as a country, which is not "worthy" to claim global political leadership, as it has not amply demonstrated its "repentance" for its former sins and is still active in promotion of "renewed militarism". Japanese researcher T. Hoshiyama noted that China`s "historical trump" is not only means of political pressure and anti-Japanese propaganda. It is also "an international trump" to damage Japan`s image and to promote China`s diplomacy track in relevant areas"[40].

South Korean Government displeased with the Yasukuni visits, as well as reluctance to resolve the "comfort women" issue also as good as froze up the political dialogue between the two countries. For instance, there were no high-level contacts from 2005 to 2009 and from 2012 to 2014. Japan-Korea security ties that had started to form in the light of the aggravating Korean peninsula problem were also seriously affected. Tripartite formats of cooperation also became the hostage of the situation: in 2012, tripartite free trade area negotiations for North-East Asia were put on hold.

The attempts to find common view of history and streamline academic collaboration also revealed the presence of serious challenges in building mutual understanding. In 2001, the governments of Japan and South Korea agreed to establish a special expert commission to review the history of bilateral relations. The engagement of the commission helped to introduce a large number of new historical records into scientific circulation. However, the final report put together by the commission in June 2005, revealed essential differences in the positions of the parties, especially on the issues of Korea`s colonial past[41]. The three-year work of the Japan and PRC commission of historians established with intergovernmental support in 2006 also revealed the differences of approaches to various historical aspects of war and postwar periods. The disagreement of the parties was especially acute concerning calculations of the number of victims of the Nanking Massacre[42].

In the foreseeable future, the issues of the past will continue to create an overall tense atmosphere of international relations in the Far East. Despite the gradual generation change, which should weaken "historical memory", it can be expected that the urgency of these issues will not subside with time. The major reason for that is that past issues cannot be resolved through diplomatic negotiations, as it is the national identity, national pride and national dignity that are at stake. That will inevitably affect the development of political and even strategic military environment of the region and hinder the establishing of effective multilateral mechanisms for international security.


[1] Moore Gregory J. History, Nationalism and Face in Sino-Japanese Relations// Journal of Chinese Political Science. 2010. No.15. P.289.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lawson Stephanie and Tannaka Seiko. War memories and Japan's 'normalization' as an international actor: A critical analysis//European Journal of International Relations. 2011. No 17. P.411.

[4] Onuma Yasuaki. Japanese War Guilt and Postwar Responsibilities of Japan// Berkeley Journal of International Law. 2002. No.20. P.601.

[5] A confirmation of this is a deliberate anti-Japanese policy of the president of the Republic of Korea Park Geun-hye, who has to demonstrate ostensible hatred towards Japan, in order not to be branded as the daughter of the «traitor».

[6] Horvat Andrew. Overcoming the Negative Legacy of the Past: Why Europe is a Positive Example for East Asia//The Brown Journal of International Affairs. 2004. Volume XI. Issue 1. P.143

[7] Bukh A. Japan's history textbook debate: National identity in narratives of victimhood and victimization// Asian Survey. 2007. No. 47(5). P. 690.

[8] Kersten R. Revisionism, reaction and the ‘symbol emperor' in post-war Japan// Japan Forum. 2003. No 15(1). P.19.

[9] Ref. to.: Onuma Yasuaki. Japanese War Guilt and Postwar Responsibilities of Japan// Berkeley Journal of International Law. 2002. No.20. P.604.

[10] Asahi Shimbun. 18.08.2011.

[11] Onuma Yasuaki. Japanese War Guilt and Postwar Responsibilities of Japan// Berkeley Journal of International Law. 2002. No.20. P.604.

[12]Japan as a ‘Normal Country': a Nation in Search of its Place in the World// Ed. By Yoshihide Soeya, Masayuki Tadokoro and David A.Welch. University of Toronto Press, 2012. P.78.

[13] Kunadze G.F. Japan and China: the Burden of «Special Relations».// Japanese kaleidoscope. М., 2006. p.232.

[14] Ibid

[15] Cit.ex Japan Times 15.08.2012.

[16] Moore Gregory J. History, Nationalism and Face in Sino-Japanese Relations/ Journal of Chinese Political Science. 2010. No.15. P. 290-292.

[17] Asahi Shimbun. 15.05.2013.

[18] Onuma Yasuaki. Japanese War Guilt and Postwar Responsibilities of Japan// Berkeley Journal of International Law. 2002. No.20. P. 603.

[19] Moore Gregory J. History, Nationalism and Face in Sino-Japanese Relations// Journal of Chinese Political Science. 2010 No. 15. P.292.

[20] Horvat Andrew. Overcoming the Negative Legacy of the Past: Why Europe is a Positive Example for East Asia//The Brown Journal of International Affairs. 2004. Volume XI. Issue 1. P. 144.

[21] It meant that the Japanese considered the Okinawans, who are ethnically different from indigenous Japanese, not loyal enough. According to Y. Nozaki and M. Selden, the Japanese military mobilized the Okinawans for the construction of defensive structures, yet they were concerned about keeping military secrets. Spreading rumors about atrocities of Americans, and instigating suicides was one of the means of avoidance of any leakage of information. Ref. Nozaki Yoshiko and Selden Mark. Japanese Textbook Controversies, Nationalism, and Historical Memory: Intra- and Inter-national Conflicts The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus http://www.japanfocus.org/-Mark-Selden/3173

[22] Horvat Andrew. Overcoming the Negative Legacy of the Past: Why Europe is a Positive Example for East Asia//The Brown Journal of International Affairs. 2004. Volume XI. Issue 1. P. 142.

[23] Asahi Shimbun, 26 June 1982

[24] Cit.ex: Lawson Stephanie and Tannaka Seiko. War memories and Japan's 'normalization' as an international actor: A critical analysis European Journal of International Relations. 2011. No. 17. P.418.

[25] Ibid. P.411.

[26] Moore Gregory J. History, Nationalism and Face in Sino-Japanese Relations// Journal of Chinese Political Science. 2010 No.15. P.292.

[27] Japan as a ‘Normal Country': a Nation in Search of its Place in the World// Ed. By Yoshihide Soeya, Masayuki Tadokoro and David A.Welch. University of Toronto Press, 2012. P.175.

[28] Horvat Andrew. Overcoming the Negative Legacy of the Past: Why Europe is a Positive Example for East Asia//The Brown Journal of International Affairs. 2004. Volume XI. Issue 1. P.142

[29] Yoshimi Yoshiaki. Jugun ianfu ("Comfort women" in the military). Tokyo, 1995.

[30] Lawson Stephanie and Tannaka Seiko. War memories and Japan's 'normalization' as an international actor: A critical analysis European Journal of International Relations. 2011. No. 17. P.416.

[31] Horvat Andrew. Overcoming the Negative Legacy of the Past: Why Europe is a Positive Example for East Asia//The Brown Journal of International Affairs. 2004. Volume XI. Issue 1. P.142

[32] Japan in search of new global role. М., 2014. P.249.

[33] Asahi Shimbun. 05.01.2013.

[34] Asahi Shimbun. 12.03.2014.

[35] Park Cheol Hee. The Pattern of Cooperation and Conflict between Korea and Japan: Theoretical Expectations and Empirical Realities/ Japanese Journal of Political Science. Volume 10. Issue 03. December 2009. P. 257.

[36]Asahi Shimbun. 14.05.2013.

[37] Asahi Shimbun. 14.05.2013.

[38] Asahi Shimbun. 14.05.2013..

[39]http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2324225/Toru-Hashimoto-Mayor-defends-using-women-sex-slaves-Japan-WWII-claiming-soldiers-needed-discipline.html

[40] Hoshiyama Takashi. New Japan-China Relations and the Corresponding Positioning of the United States - History, Values, Realism in a Changing World Asia-Pacific Review. 2008. Vol. 15. No. 2. P.84

[41] Japan as a ‘Normal Country': a Nation in Search of its Place in the World Ed. By Yoshihide Soeya, Masayuki Tadokoro and David A.Welch. University of Toronto Press, 2012. P.175.

[42] The Japan Times. 21.01.2010.