(January 30, Page 22)

February 6, 2014

The article posted by the Chinese Ambassador on 12 January is the latest example of a worldwide propaganda campaign against Japan by Chinese embassies to deny Japan’s post-war path as a peaceful nation, while conveniently ignoring its own coercive expansionist moves that are posing serious and real security concerns among many countries in the Asia-Pacific area. I am convinced that such groundless slander against the people of a free society and its democratically elected leader is not at all convincing for the Italians, who share fundamental values such as human rights and the rule of law with the Japanese. Nonetheless I have to briefly outline some facts to avoid the Italian readers being misled by such propaganda.

In Yasukuni Shrine, approximately 2.5 million souls of those who made the ultimate sacrifices for their nation not just in WWII, but also during domestic turmoil and other wars since 1853 are enshrined regardless of their gender or rank. Upon his recent visit to the shrine, Prime Minister Abe issued a statement entitled “Pledge for everlasting peace.” He underlined that his visit was made to pay his respects and pray for the souls of the war dead and to renew the pledge that Japan shall never again wage war. Prime Minister Abe also visited “Chinreisha”, a remembrance memorial to pray for the souls of all of those, irrespective of nationality, who lost their lives in the war. As his statement clearly shows, the visit was by no means to pay homage to war criminals or to praise militarism. Japan has created a free and democratic country and consistently walked the path of peace for the past 68 years.

China’s stance toward Yasukuni has been inconsistent at its best. More than 60 visits to Yasukuni have been made by Japanese Prime Ministers since the end of WWII. Almost half of these visits were made after 1979, the year in which it became public that 14 Class A war criminals had been enshrined there in 1978. It is worth noting that China began raising this issue from 1985, by which time more than 20 of these visits had gone unchallenged. Moreover, China even formally expressed its positive evaluation of Japan’s post-war record as nation of peace in the Japan-China Joint Statement of 2008, after all of these visits. This makes one wonder what the true intentions of the Chinese accusations are. Has Japan suddenly turned militaristic within five years? Certainly not.

I hope to underline that the Government of Japan has repeatedly expressed deep remorse and heartfelt apology for causing tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly in Asia, squarely facing history. This stance is firmly upheld under the Abe Government. The Chinese ambassador also refers to how Germany has dealt with, but it needs to be recognized that the post war situation in Europe differed considerably from that of East Asia. Furthermore, the reconciliation of the countries in Europe was achieved through efforts on both sides. I am proud to say that Japan has played its part by making its utmost efforts in post war years through its contribution to global peace and prosperity. Accordingly, it is certain that the insulting remarks on Japan by the Chinese ambassadors around the globe do not resonate internationally. Japan always ranks among the most favoured nations in public opinion polls not only in the Western world but also in most of Asia (in the survey conducted by the BBC).

It is ironic that a country that has developed strategic nuclear weapons and increased its own annual military spending by double digits for the past 20 years should call its neighbour “militarist”. Japan increased its defence budget by only 0.8% in 2013, only after decreasing it for 10 consecutive years. China’s military budget is now the second largest in the world, more than twice that of Japan. Its attempt to change the status quo by force or coercion, instead of abiding by the rule of law, has raised grave security concerns throughout the region. Chinese government vessels repeatedly intrude into Japanese territorial waters surrounding the Senkaku Islands, which have been peacefully under Japan's sovereignty for 120 years. China started to raise its territorial claims only in 1971 after a scientific research had indicated a possibility of oil reserve nearby. A Chinese destroyer even directed its fire-control radar at a Japanese vessel last year, which in normal naval practice might be regarded as an act of war. China’s recent unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone covering the islands is further escalating the tensions. Even faced by these dangerous provocations, Japan has been exercising utmost restraint.

China may well have different views. This is why the two countries should meet and seek mutual understanding. Although Prime Minister Abe stated that he strongly wishes to explain his thoughts directly to the Chinese leaders, China has so far refused the offer. I sincerely hope that China will come forward, rather than keep invoking the ghost of “militarism” of seven decades ago, which no longer exists.

Masaharu Kohno
Ambassador of Japan to Italy

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