Friday, September 19, 2014

China still haunted by Japan

Greater China
     Sep 19, '14

China still haunted by Japan
By Amrita Jash

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

On September 3, China commemorated the 69th anniversary of its "War of resistance against Japan" at the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance against Japanese Aggression.

The Chinese government officially had designated September 3 as the "Victory Day of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression", a move that was ratified by the

Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in February.

The rationale behind such behavior is the result of its brutal memories. Burgeoning economic engagement between China and Japan has not succeeded in mitigating the grievances of the past, for China views the past as a mirror to the future.

Since a normalization in ties in 1972, China's relations with Japan have been guided by the philosophy of "taking history as the mirror and looking forward to the future", where the Chinese leadership have been motivated by the bias of "never forget national humiliation".

Following his predecessors, Chinese President Xi Jinping has reinforced the rhetoric of "national humiliation". As he said, "the war launched by the Japanese militarists in modern times brought calamity to the people of China and other Asian countries. The facts cannot be denied. China will never allow any denial and distortion of this history of aggression or any return to militarism."

This symbolic gesture holds a strong meaning. With this commemoration and official declaration of "Victory Day", China wants to signal an alarm to the international community of a militarist Japan.

From this, it seems that China's memories of Japan have been deeply internalized, whereby the present behavior towards Japan exists in the historical narratives of the wartime aggression. China fears a militarist Japan and thereby, the main objective behind such an act is to resist any form of resurgence of Japanese militarism in the future. Thereby, commemorating a day in the memory of China's victory over Japanese aggression would act as a constant reminder for Japan and the world of its past aggressions.

With this policy, China wants Japan to constantly remember its imperialist past and not repeat the mistakes. As Xi stated, "Japan must show a sense of responsibility for history, the region's people and the future to maintain Sino-Japanese friendship as well as the stability and development of Asia" and "take a prudent attitude and appropriately deal with historical issues, learn lessons and stick to the road of peaceful development."

In this context, it can be strongly stated that China's relations with Japan goes beyond the fixed contours of national interest. It is more related to the conscience of national memory and identity. Such strong sentimental rhetoric weighs down the realist understanding, where it is argued that nation-state's actions are interest driven, but in case of China, it is consciously memory driven.

China's attitude towards Japan is motivated by the logic of historical memories than that of rational interests. This argument stands valid as the present China-Japan relations exhibit a departure from the two conventional norms: first, that time can heal all wounds; and second, that growing bilateral contacts should mitigate historical grievances.

This digression in behavior can be argued on the grounds that, despite deepened economic integration and cultural exchanges between the two countries, there is still an anti-Japanese political culture in China. The cognitive component of historical memories seems to defy the neo-liberal arguments - and strong economic ties have failed to forge a reconciliation between the two countries.

China's behavior towards Japan tends to be shaped by the Chinese emphasis on two philosophical thoughts- first, the past experience, if not forgotten, is a guide to the future (Qianshibuwang, houshizhishi); and secondly, never forget national humiliation (Wuwangguochi).

These two constructs point to the role of memories in this relationship, not only in terms of the sense of events of the past but also as a powerful symbol. In this, the "Middle Kingdom complex" and the "century of humiliation" act as key drivers to China's historical consciousness, which links the past to the present.

It signifies how history has influenced Chinese people's attitudes and perceptions towards Japan. The important reason for China's emotionality is that people of China connect the current events with historical grievances. Thus, any act on the part of Japan reactivates the Chinese memory of the wars and invasions that this country has suffered many years ago.

It seems that for China, the brutal war and this part of history in relation to Japan, have left many sensitive historical dents, which get reactivated deliberately or unintentionally, creating a discord in China's attitude towards Japan. This fundamental reason helps to explain as to why the bilateral relations have always been fragile and dangerous even after decades of normalization. It is because the historical issues and interpretations of the past pose a major barrier for China to reconcile with Japan.

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.

Amrita Jash is a PhD Research scholar at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi-India. Her research interests are international politics, China's politics, foreign policy, security issues, conflict and peacebuilding and strategic studies. She can be reached at:

(Copyright 2014 Amrita Jash)

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