OPINION | by Siyuan Chai
East Asian reconciliation and conflict resolution are issues of regional and international importance and their difficulties lie in the unresolved historical controversies primarily centering around Japan and its past aggression during the Pacific War. The reluctance of the Japanese government to deliver a firm apology for its past war crimes has resulted in backlashes from its neighboring states: China and Korea. Even though some parties in Japan have sought to mitigate this issue, the visits of Japanese officials to the Yasukuni Shrine, coupled with the history textbook controversy, and the Liberal Democratic Party government’s continuous attempt to revise Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, have largely intensified both regional and international animosity.
After taking a course on Japanese Constitutional Law, I have understood a wide range of political and partisan complexities embedded in Japan’s history of political contestation, and how its internal struggles and external diplomatic relations with the U.S. have influenced it’s government’s decision-making and had led to the inaction of apologizing officially, and hindering the possibility of rational regional dialogues. From my perspective, regardless of the political incentives it is unethical for Japanese politicians to raise aggression and act on behaviors that are likely to trigger regional instability, harming the increasingly harmonious East Asian community that has been brought together by neoliberal economic and market forces through international trade. Rather, it is important to acknowledge the social and financial contributions from Japanese civil society, NGOs, and NPOs throughout the years.
Previous visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese politicians had brought triggering effects in East Asia as these actions were perceived as disrespectful to the surviving victims, their families, and the international consensus of human rights for peace. It could also be interpreted as unconstitutional due to its violation of the religion and state separation principle enshrined in the post-WWII 1947 Constitution. Any action of Japanese politicians that promotes militarism revival should be seen as improper as they contradict with the renunciation of war principle at the centerpiece of Article 9. To kickstart reconciliation, it might be wiser for Japan to publicly admit its past crimes and to compensate or at least acknowledge the sufferings it has inflicted upon war victims, including comfort women, and those who were tortured during Japan’s human experiments, as well as civilians who were killed during the Rape of Nanking. Only when Japanese politicians truly restrain efforts of militarization and extreme nationalism could a conducive political environment be created for extensive and ongoing regional dialogues and communications to happen in a future East Asia that is built upon mutual respect and trust. It is important for the Japanese government to understand that this is not solely a political issue but also a potential economic issue if it were to trigger trade wars with neighboring China and Korea which could result in damages to Japan’s export competitiveness, market viability, and its tourism.
Japanese and other Asian NPOs and NGOs should play a more important role in helping to resolve historical controversies as they are less likely to be restrained by strong political forces, and have more freedom when it comes to the expression of opinions, group organization, and scholarly research related to unresolved WWII historical issues and their interpretations. Researchers, student groups, and other representatives of the NPOs and NGOs should work hand in hand to address the long-lasting reconciliation difficulties and provide their insights to respective governments. In order to achieve this, effective planning and organization of regional forums and conferences can be a good start. Universities and various types of research institutes can serve as the breeding ground for communications to happen, and if successful, they would lead to greater regional integration and contribute to a stronger relationship between these nations.
In my opinion, the abandoning of constitution revision could serve as a friendly sign and a prerequisite for long lasting harmony in East Asia. For the benefit of all, regional reconciliation can lead to the pursuit of common goals and a better cooperation among nations to manage a crisis, for example, during this Covid-19 pandemic, if East Asia were more integrated as a community, the problem would have been more speedily and smoothly tackled through multilateral efforts.
Peter (Siyuan) Chai is originally from Dalian, China, and is a third-year undergraduate student at Waseda University School of Political Science and Economics (English-based). He has previously worked as a Research Assistant of Prof. Shuhei Kurizaki on diplomatic data collection and coding project and as a Teaching Assistant of Prof. Willy Jou for course Comparative Politics of East Asia. His research interests surround the topics of East Asian political economy and welfare regimes, and has currently been studying development and environmental economics, along with corporate finance.
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