News

Japan Ponders Options as Anti-Japanese Sentiment Escalates Among Neighbors

Japan is increasingly finding itself on the diplomatic defensive in its home region. As anti-Japanese protests mount in China, and with rising criticism from both Koreas, Tokyo is struggling to formulate a response. All this comes as Japan is seeking support for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, a bid that is looking increasingly unlikely.

Images of Chinese throwing rocks and bottles at the Japanese Embassy and attacking Japanese shops in China have been playing over and over on Japanese television this week.

Japanese watching the violent scenes say they are surprised by the outburst, and by reports of rising anti-Japanese hostility in South Korea as well. This was supposed to be an era in which Japan enjoys record trade and tourism exchanges with its Asian neighbors.

The catalyst for the protests has been recent revisions to a few Japanese textbooks, which critics say gloss over the country's early 20th century aggression against its neighbors.

Many Asians claim to detect rising nationalism in Japan, as the country becomes more assertive over disputed islands and their potentially valuable surrounding waters. Tokyo and Pyongyang also are in a dispute over Japanese kidnapped by North Korea during the Cold War. At the same time, Tokyo is lobbying for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, which Beijing and Seoul oppose.

As the language from Beijing, Seoul and Pyongyang becomes harsher, some Japanese are saying, enough. They contend that that Japan has spent decades kowtowing diplomatically - uttering apologies of varying depth its actions before and during World War Two and becoming one of the top donors of foreign aid to its neighbors. But the effort has gained the country little.

Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, in a recent address at a military camp, calls on the Japanese government to stop being so passive. He complains that the administration of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi just keeps telling everyone to "calm down."

Japan indeed has long refrained from making harsh statements - taking its cues from cautious politicians and bureaucrats who, in answer to criticism, point out the country's pacifist constitution and its peaceful post-war record. Governor Ishihara says it is time to fight back firmly against the anti-Japanese rhetoric.

The Tokyo governor was considered until recently far more nationalist than most politicians, and the public at large. But his strong views are winning more mainstream support in Japan after the recent outbursts from China and South Korea.

Katsuei Hirasawa is a member of the lower house of Parliament from the governing Liberal Democratic Party, and a powerful player in the diplomatic and defense arenas.

"Ishihara's position is right. We are not assertive to China, North Korea and South Korea," he said. "That is the problem for many years. The politicians have to be blamed and also Japanese foreign office [Foreign Ministry] has to bear responsibility."

Mr. Hirasawa, who has been deeply involved for years in discreet troubleshooting for the government, contends China has lately been using Japan as a scapegoat to divert its people's attention from its own pressing domestic problems.

He says criticism of Japanese actions during the war is justified, and he can even understand the attitude of post-war generations of Chinese and Koreans. But modern-day Japan, he says, is a very different country.

"Please look at South Korean textbooks and Chinese textbooks, how they teach young children about Japan," he noted. "Japan is a kind of very, very evil country and Japanese soldiers during the war did very cruel acts. Of course we did wrong things. But after the war we have changed."

Rei Shiratori is the head of the Institute for Political Studies in Japan. He says one reason for the current friction is differing cultural values. He says Japan cherishes a Buddhist attitude akin to "forgive and forget," and points out how few Japanese bear hostility toward the Americans for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

"We don't like to stir up any kind of conflict," he explained. "So tolerance is one of the very important values in Japanese ordinary peoples' way of thinking. So therefore the Japanese side considers that other countries' people will say the same thing."

Mr. Shiratori says Japan is viewed in the region as an economic power that aspires to become a military power again. He doubts Asians will be appeased by more apologies or reparations, and he says Japan's ability to reply to criticism is limited.

"Simply if the Japanese side criticizes and blames the Chinese and Korean governments, that will really pour oil toward the fire and we cannot get more sympathy from other Asian countries," he said.

Many Japanese believe that in the future, Japan will find itself increasingly isolated, with China becoming the region's dominant economic and military power.

The question remains in which direction Japan will move. It could act to accommodate its critics regarding its militaristic past and temper fears about resurging Japanese nationalism. Or it could confront China and the Koreas, trying to win not their sympathy but their respect by increasing its military power and saying it has made enough apologies for the past.

So far, it is not clear which way the government will move. Despite its assertiveness on disputed territory and insistence that China protect Japanese property from demonstrators, the government has said repeatedly that it wants friendly relations with its neighbors and wants to talk over disagreements.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs