August 15 presents itself as a landmark date in the new history of the Asia-Pacific Region and, in particular, the North-East Asia Sub-Region. On this day in 1945, the then-Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, issued a historical statement in which he agreed to accept the terms of capitulation that the leaders of the United States, Great Britain and the Republic of China had formulated three weeks earlier in Potsdam.
Since then, Japan has always associated the end of the 1937-1945 war, a disaster that was unprecedented in the history of the country, with this date. Suffice it to say that, of the approximately 2.4 million servicemen killed in the wars that Japan had waged since the mid-19th century, over 90 per cent of them were in this last war.
However, the human and material losses incurred by China are incalculably greater. It is rather South Korea that claims the moral and political losses against Japan, which, however, extends to the entire period of the occupation of the Korean Peninsula (1910-1945).
In recent decades, the PRC and the ROK have followed with great attention the events that have marked this sad date in Tokyo, which is in line with the complex context of Japan’s current political relations with its two Asian neighbors. The negative context of this level in Japan’s relations with its main enemy in the last war, the US, is now virtually absent. To pay their due homage, people visit the memorials that were erected to commemorate the events of the bygone era, which are now very remote in relation to the current regional problems that are piling up like snowballs, threatening to destroy the entire system of relations across the Pacific Rim.
In view of these circumstances, during these days, both sides try to do various kinds of appreciable gestures for each other. For example, an almost 90-year-old former American marine serviceman who allegedly recovered (and had since been keeping) a Japanese flag from the body of a Japanese soldier who died on the island of Saipan in 1944 finally brought it to Japan. On August 15 of this year, in full view of cameras, the marine handed the relic to the former’s younger brother, who was still alive. This was a very touching and heart-warming scene.
It is important to note here that, at the official level, the two sides tend to avoid mentioning the causes and perpetrators of the war in the Pacific. After all, who knows what would surface if one started showing unconscionable diligence in the search for “the truth”? The truth that no one (except professional historians) needs and which can only spoil the ever-so-glorious American-Japanese relationship today.
On the other hand, Washington is completely indifferent to the refusal by the present Japan to be “guilty of everything” to do with the Second World War. Which her former ally, Germany, is not tired of doing.
However, the current state of Japan’s relations with the PRC and the ROK does not predispose anything similar. On August 15, the capitals of both Japanese neighbors were attentively watching the actions and listening to the words that the highest officials in Tokyo were doing and saying. Had any member of the Government (and especially the Prime Minister) visited the “dedicated” temple of Yasukuni, where the souls of most of the dead Japanese servicemen are commemorated?
In the eyes of the neighbors of Japan, the distinctive symbolism of this temple (which is already negative, as it is viewed as the “embodiment of Japanese militarism”) is propounded by the fact that the souls of some of Japan’s top military officials condemned by the Tokyo Tribunal “rest” there.
This year, Shinzo Abe himself did not visit the Yasukuni Temple, a fact that his neighbors made note of as, of course, “a plus”. As for the ritual tribute of the Japanese premier, they viewed it as “a minus”. And although the Japanese cabinet ministers did not visit the temple, Tomomi Inada, who had only vacated the post of Minister of Defense 2 weeks before, took the trip. 60 parliamentary deputies followed suit.
Since ascending the throne in 1989, current Emperor of Japan Akihito (son of Hirohito) has not afforded the date August 15 less that adequate attention. The format and content of his statements on this subject in recent years have been more or less well-polished, and boil down to the expression of “sincere remorse”, hopes for the avoidance of the future occurrence of such “destructive wars”, and the need to “deepen our knowledge of the last war, which is essential for the future of Japan”.
China was gratified to note the release on the eve of August 15 of a documentary film by the Japanese broadcasting company NHK depicting the infamous “Unit 731″, the testing of chemical and bacteriological weapons on living people, mainly the Chinese, but also captured soldiers of the Allied armies, that was carried out during the years of war.
In turn, in the PRC itself, a documentary film on the 22 (still alive today) “comfort women”, a topic that is periodically discussed in NEO was concurrently featured. This is still a particularly painful subject in Japan’s current relations with its neighbors, but, above all, with South Korea.
In connection with the memorial rituals at the Yasukuni Temple, the Xinhua News Agency published an article under a headline in the form of a rhetorical question: “What if Nazi war criminals were worshiped in Germany?” Here, one could again reiterate the differences, firstly in assessing the causes and culprits of the biggest catastrophe of the twentieth century prevailing in Germany and Japan, as well as in the cultural and historical traditions of both countries.
Finally, it should be noted that the very nature of the August 15 date is a landmark element in diagnosing the overall state of affairs in the North-East Asia Sub-Region, which is at a crossroads. This is mainly because the course of the foreign policy of the leading global power, which is the most important ally of Japan, and, at the same time, a geopolitical opponent of China, is also at a crossroads.
The difficulty with forecasting the development of US foreign policy stems from the chaos in which the country is immersed in the American version of the “Cultural Revolution” that actually began in the last presidential election campaign.
This ended in the reactivation of its own “hongweibing leftists”, who led an uncompromising war with the symbols of the bygone days. They have been exploited by new conservative predators who want to continue to use the potential of the US, that is to the detriment of the people of that great country.
In the face of the uncertainty of the American foreign policy, Japan is reserving some room for the possibility of maneuvering in the direction of China, a position that is arousing a positive reaction in Beijing. The path to this extremely positive situation on the Pacific Rim is littered with a variety of obstacles, including a number of symbolic dates.
Among the next scheduled, the crucial one is not even September 03, but the forthcoming 80th anniversary of the so-called “Nanjing Massacre” at the end of this year. In the days leading to that date, both countries could be expected to gravitate towards each other. In particular, the visit of the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, to Nanjing in this regard would be viewed in a much positive light in Beijing. And it would be absolutely gratifying to see Shinzo Abe tacitly standing in silence with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the memorial commemorating the events of 80 years ago.
As for the very phenomenon of the “Nanjing Massacre”, professional historians shall be left to forever “torment their spirits” with the search for its “truth”. The responsible politicians in the course of the next significant historic date should proceed from a simple principle: the dead should not continue tripping the living.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”