Can Fukuda urge Japan to face up to history?

By Chen Yang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/28 18:18:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

According to Kyodo News, former Japanese prime minister Yasuo Fukuda visited the Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders Sunday and laid a wreath in tribute to the victims. His China tour includes attending an academic conference in Shanghai, but the visit in Nanjing was Fukuda's major purpose.

Fukuda also became the fourth former prime minister of Japan to visit the memorial hall after Toshiki Kaifu, Tomiichi Murayama and Yukio Hatoyama. Given the currently improving ties between China and Japan, Fukuda's visit will help promote the bilateral relationship.

Unlike his three predecessors, Fukuda's visit to the massacre memorial hall carries more diplomatic weight for both Chinese and Japanese societies.

When Kaifu, Murayama and Hatoyama visited Nanjing, they had long been away from Japanese politics. Their gestures were widely respected by Chinese people but had limited impact on Japanese society, hardly waking up the Japanese public to face up to the country's historical atrocities.

However, Fukuda's visit is slightly different. After resigning as prime minister in 2008, he has maintained influence in Japanese politics and has been active in major media. Fukuda once served as chairman of the Boao Forum for Asia. He is one of very few politicians from previous Japanese political circles that could have direct dialogue with current high-level Chinese officials. His father is former Japanese prime minister Takeo Fukuda. One of his major achievements was the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and the People's Republic of China in 1978, which laid a solid foundation for the development of Sino-Japanese ties.

Be it personal will or inheritance of his father's philosophy, Fukuda's visit to the memorial hall is bound to call upon mainstream Japanese society to face up to its history.

On Japanese social networks, many rightists criticized Fukuda as a "national thief." Yet this stance does not necessarily represent the opinion of Japan's mainstream society. What's more, rightists make up only a small portion of the country's population. Nonetheless, their remarks reflect their distorted historical views and unhealthy concept of honor and disgrace.

For quite some time, due to some Japanese politicians' ridiculous remarks on historical issues, it has been hard for Tokyo to develop relations with peripheral countries. Worse, tensions and confrontations have erupted from time to time. But the practices of Kaifu, Murayama, Hatoyama and Fukuda proved that at least some people in Japan's political arena still keep a sober mind and are serious about history. They are proactively promoting Japanese society to understand the past in a rational and objective way.

It is to be hoped that Japan's sitting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is seeking an official visit to China, could also visit Nanjing in his future China tour. Abe, who has become the country's longest-serving prime minister since the end of World War II, will be remembered within Japan because of revising the nation's pacifist Constitution. If he can pay a visit to Nanjing during his term, becoming the first sitting prime minister to visit the massacre memorial hall, he will be remembered by the world.

So far, his four predecessors have set good examples. It is hoped that Abe can break away from a narrow-minded conception of history, apologize for Japan's past, and win respect for Japan's future.

The author is an editor at the Global Times and a research fellow on Japan issues.


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