“A Correct Recognition of History” Shifting public anger to Japan works for survival of administrations of PRC and South Korea

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Political Columnist / Director of JFSS Taro Yayama

The Chinese government has been planning to organize a large anti-Japanese campaign this year in honor of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations. At the onset, as one of the members of the UN Security Council, Beijing held an open debate named “Anti-Fascist War Victory” in February, 2015.

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reflected, “There are still some who are reluctant to recognise the truth and [who] even attempt to overturn and whitewash past crimes of aggression”. The Japanese ambassador to the United Nations, Motohide Yoshikawa, refuted that “Throughout its post-war history, Japan has, based on feelings of deep remorse regarding the Second World War ... walked the path of a peace-loving nation.”

It seems that Beijing is trying to give a new and strong impression to the rest of the world that they were the ones who led the war against so-called fascist nations during the Second World War and also clinched victory. Shifting Chinese society's burning anger and criticism towards Japan is one of their usual and popular techniques to ensure their control of power over the last decades; and recent successful South Korean governments have been imitating this tactics. For instance, the South Korean President Park Geun Hye rarely speaks without stating that “Japan should have a correct recognition of history." 

When Beijing and Seoul speak about “a correct recognition of history”, it only refers to two issues: the so-called Nanjing Massacre in 1937 in China; and so-called Korean Comfort Women (military prostitution) issue during WWII. These well-known and easily-recognizable issues have been frequently used by both Beijing and Seoul to diminish or disparage Japan’s international standing and for the purpose of securing a superior position to Japan both politically and economically. 

However, the main enemy of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) in China was Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Party (Chinese Nationalist Party) and it was not the “Eighth Route Army” of the Chinese Communist Party that later became the People's Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). PRC was founded in October 1949 only after they defeated Chiang Kai-shek and eliminated his army from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan, which was four years after the establishment of the United Nations. Moreover, PRC only acceded to the UN in October 1971 when the General Assembly passed the Albania's Resolution 2758 recognizing that the PRC was the only lawful representative of China to the UN and expelled Taiwan (Republic of China).

It means that PRC was never an initial member of the UN when it was founded and was never one of the main allies to fight against Japan. Indeed, the PRC needs to have “a correct recognition of history” of its own origin. 

Conversely, South Korea’s demands toward Japan for “a correct recognition of history” is simple. They want Japan to pay compensations to former Korean comfort women. However, Korea had been dependent on successful dynasties in China for more than a thousand years where they were allowed to call themselves “Dynasty” by the Chinese Ming Emperor. Korean resentment of the 36-Year Japanese annexation is understandable as Koreans traditionally have had contempt for Japan. However, Japan annexed Korea like Germany annexed Austria and it unlike the British colonization of India.

The Japanese Empire assured almost the same status to Korean citizens with Japanese citizens. The slave classes that made up 30% of the population in Korea were all set free, overall rice production almost doubled and more than 5200 primary schools for Korean children were built throughout the Korean peninsula.

Also, one important thing that we all need to remember is that Comfort Women (Military Prostitutes) systems or similar relevant systems were legal business not only in Japan but also in many other countries including Western nations.

However, false information such as the Japanese Empire hunted and kidnapped Korean women for sex slavery have been spread all over the world by the Japanese media. In August 2014, Asahi Newspaper admitted that they published 16 comfort women-related articles to spread false impressions around this issue to the rest of the world for 32 years.

Academics who vigorously search for historical facts also agree that South Korea’s modernization and strong development in the post-war era was motivated by Japanese annexation of Korea till 1945.