Japan must own up to its wartime atrocities

By Zhou Yongsheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/12 21:43:40

Eighty years on, the memory of the Nanjing Massacre, in which more than 300,000 innocent Chinese were killed by Japanese invaders in 1937, still sits at the heart of disputes between China and Japan. Tokyo's silence on the brutality of its wartime crimes and reluctance to properly acknowledge the atrocity to the wider world has hurt the feelings of the Chinese public, to whom the tragedy has been the subject of various tributes back home.

Although the Japanese government admits to the looting and killing of civilians during the infamous episode, it is still unwilling to acknowledge the scale of the tragedy. Tokyo complained earlier that it wasn't appropriate for Beijing to claim 300,000 died in the massacre. The figure is "different from Japan's position" and it's "difficult to determine the concrete number of victims," the Japanese government was quoted as saying by local media outlets in 2015.

Despite repeated calls for Japan to own up to its responsibilities for the brutality, the country's right-wing forces have been playing down the incident. Although the horrible crimes that Japanese invaders committed in Nanjing are well-documented, they have chosen to deny them. Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura came under heavy fire in 2012 for his careless remarks on the massacre. "It is true that a considerable number of people died in the course of battle. However such a thing as the so-called Nanjing Massacre is unlikely to have taken place," he reportedly said, adding that the savage crimes were only "conventional acts of combat."

The historical fact of the Nanjing Massacre has been consistently proven and any denial to its existence is hurtful to the feelings of Chinese people. Moreover, such right-wing remarks have strongly influenced the Japanese public's attitude toward the event. Some radical forces even fabricate "evidence" to whitewash the brutality of the country's past and tout absurd historical recounts to unknowing Japanese citizens. The APA Group, a Japanese hotel chain, was thrust into the media limelight earlier this year for placing books in guest rooms that openly deny the slaughter in Nanjing.

Some of the lies are so carefully constructed that ordinary Japanese citizens may sometimes find it hard to distinguish them from facts. During my stay in Japan, I found that the majority of people there believe in the existence of massacre in Nanjing, but find the death toll of 300,000 to be questionable. This is a worrying phenomenon attributed to Japan's right-wing propaganda. Any denial of Japan's wartime crimes must be strongly condemned and protested to prevent the resurgence of militarism in the country.

The divergent views on the Nanjing Massacre not only harm people-to-people ties between China and Japan, but also put the Beijing-Tokyo bilateral relationship in peril. The Chinese government and the public have been making unremitting endeavors demanding Japan to squarely face up to, apologize and compensate for the mass killings and sexual assaults that Japanese forces committed in Nanjing in 1937. Yet these efforts have only been met by Tokyo with noncompliance. The attempts by Japan's right-wing forces to rewrite history and cover up the country's crimes during the war period are even more disappointing. It will do no good for both countries, and will only sow seeds of conflict between the two peoples and impede the healthy development of the Sino-Japanese relationship.

We urge Japan to learn from Germany, an Axis power that later was gradually forgiven by the international community given the sincerity of its penitence. Germany has tough laws to ban any move that may incite Nazism. It is unlawful to produce, distribute or display symbols of the Nazi era in Germany. There have been many cases of people being sentenced to years in prison for denying the holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. Thus over time, pro-Nazi forces have been eliminated in the country.

The strict legal system of Germany has contributed to its current attitude toward war crimes. Japan should also establish such a mechanism, reflect upon itself and finally acknowledge the Nanjing Massacre, in order to maintain a sustainable Beijing-Tokyo relationship in the future.

The author is deputy director of the Japanese Studies Center at China Foreign Affairs University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn


blog comments powered by Disqus