In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Hatoyama to Nanjing, Hu to Hiroshima?

Posted by seumasach on January 11, 2010

Kosuke Takahashi

Asia Times

12th January, 2010

With the world economy’s center of gravity shifting from the West to the East, led by China’s rising economic and corresponding political power, the year 2010 may witness a series of epoch-making events in Asia.

A grand rapprochement between Japan and China could be one such happening, and the idea has been recently floated through the media by some anonymous diplomatic sources in Tokyo and/or Beijing, attracting a lot of attention among experts worldwide.

The French newspaper Le Figaro reported from Tokyo last Wednesday that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had delivered to the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) the script of a spectacular reconciliation this year between the two countries. The report said the CCP had proposed that Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama begin the process by going to Nanjing, where a mass killing of Chinese civilians by the Japanese Imperial Army took place in December 1937 and subsequent months.

This first visit to Nanjing by a Japanese prime minister since the war would present to the Chinese people Tokyo’s officialapologies without ambiguity, easing lingering anti-Japan sentiment among the Chinese public. In return, some months later, on August 15, the anniversary of the Japanese surrender in 1945, Chinese President Hu Jintao would go to Hiroshima, the first city to experience atomic bombing, and declare the three non-nuclear principles: China will not make a nuclear first strike, will not attack any non-nuclear country and will not export nuclear arms. The French paper named as its source only “ourinformation”.

Meanwhile, the Yomiuri, Japan’s largest daily newspaper, also reported from Beijing on Wednesday that China had unofficially sounded out Japanese government sources on a visit by Hatoyama to Nanjing, likely around the time he goes to theShanghai Expo’s Japan Day on June 12, with Hu visiting Hiroshima around the time of the November Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to be held in Japan. TheJapanese paper said reciprocal visits would aim at improving feelings between the two peoples. Still, unlike Le Figaro, the Yomiuri mentioned nothing about apologies or nuke promises. It cited “several Japanese and Chinese sources”.

China’s Foreign Ministry denied the Yomiuri report on Thursday, with a ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, saying the media rumors of a Nanjing trip were “groundless”. But she also said, in what sounded like a non-denial-denial, “It is too early to confirm the details.” On the same day, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Hirofumi Hirano, also denied the reports, saying “at this point, we are not considering” a visit by Hatoyama to Nanjing.

“I have not heard of any such plan,” a top Foreign Ministry officialalso told Asia Times Online, speaking on condition of anonymity. “My guess is that some persons involved might have presented their wish list to have better relations. There is nothing concrete about it.” This official’s comment suggests that such talks are still going on either at lower government-to-government levels or through party-to-party channels.

The reports by Le Figaro and the Yomiuri, however, followed a similar report in November by the Japanese business magazine, Weekly Toyo Keizai. It reported a secret diplomatic schedule being prepared by relevant Chinese and Japanese players. It predicted that the visit to Beijing one month later by Ichiro Ozawa, secretary general of the DPJ, accompanying more than 600 people, including 143 DPJ lawmakers from the upper and lower houses of the Diet (parliament), would be the first of several Japan-China exchanges. The visit was conducted as part of regular exchanges between the DPJ and the CCP, whose general secretary is Hu.

The media reports have triggered strong reaction. After Le Figaro’s report, China’s Global Times posted a questionnaire about this possible Japan-China grand rapprochement on its Chinese-language website. More than 30,000 Internet users have responded.

When asked whether the Japanese leader should apologize at the Memorial for Compatriots Killed in the Nanjing Massacre byJapanese Forces of Aggression, 95.1% said “yes”. Only 1% said “no”. When asked whether the Japanese leader’s apology would lead to Japan-China reconciliation, 24.7% said “yes” and 29.5% said “no”.

Japanese leaders’ visits to this memorial are nothing new. Hiromu Nonaka, then acting secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party, visited the victims’ memorial in Nanjing on May 9, 1998, laying flowers at the site and becoming the first leader from his party to do so. In the same month, formerJapanese prime minister Tomiichi Murayama visited the site.

Even if speculation over Hatoyama’s visit to Nanjing and Hu’s visit to Hiroshima turns out to be nothing, it is still intriguing, as it may indicate that Japan’s shift toward Asia, especially China, and away from the United States, is taking shape.

China seems to have refrained from using the Japan historic card to control its own people since 1996, when then-prime minister Shinzo Abe chose Beijing for his first overseas visit out of a desire to strengthen ties with the leaders of Japan’s important neighbor. Historically, the CCP’s one-party regimehas been legitimized, in part, by its struggle against theJapanese invader.

Why then does China want Hatoyama to visit Nanjing? There are conflicting views among Japanese experts. Some say that in preparation for a succession of power in 2012 and beyond, Beijing’s secret battles are intensifying. A faction of ex-president Jiang Zemin, who annoyed Japanese leaders by bringing up the history issue during a banquet with the emperor, has been gaining ground recently. Others believe Beijing wants to settle historic issues once and for all, to enable the two nations to build a future-oriented relationship of mutual trust, much like the Franco-German reconciliation that president Charles de Gaulle of France and West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer started by signing the Elysee Treaty in 1963, a foundation of Franco-German cooperation that led to European integration.

Some US officials and experts, especially right-leaning military planners, may be displeased to see Tokyo’s approach to Beijing at a time when the relocation issue of the US Marine CorpsAir Station Futenma in Okinawa prefecture has been deadlocked.

In a commentary titled “Japan’s risky rapprochement with China” published on December 21 by The Wall Street Journal, Kelly Currie, a non-resident fellow of the Project 2049 Institute, a think-tank in Washington, wrote:

Prime Minister Hatoyama will likely continue his promised efforts to “rebalance” Japanese relations with the US and China, but now that he’s actually responsible for governing, Mr Hatoyama needs to ask himself: Which country would ultimately keep the Japanese people’s best interests at heart – democratic America or authoritarian China? If the prime minister answers the latter, then theJapanese public – and the Obama administration – really will need to start worrying.

Well, the relationship between Japan and China has been rapidly improving since Hatoyama’s China-friendly administration was inaugurated last September, as is the relationship between Beijing and Taipei since the mainland-friendly administration of President Ma Ying-jeou took office in Taiwan in May 2008. The US administration of Barack Obama has followed suit.

Every country, driven by economic and political pragmatism, is rushing to cash in on China’s huge consumer market. Japan is no exception. As a result, Japan-China-US trilateral relations are giving off a lot of heat in the unsettled state of affairs of Northeast Asia.

Kosuke Takahashi is a Tokyo-based journalist. Besides Asia Times Online, he writes for Jane’s Defence Weekly as Tokyo correspondent. He can be contacted at

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved

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