Tokyo faces a dilemma of sorts

Updated: 2013-03-04 07:51

By Shen Dingli (China Daily)

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Abe has vowed to make Japan a first-tier country but he cannot meet his goal if Japanese politicians continue denying war crimes

In a speech titled "Japan is back", during his visit to Washington, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to reinvigorate Japan's economy and said: "Japan is not, and will never be, a tier-two country."

Abe's economic revival recipe has received mixed response. But one thing is for sure that economic strength alone does not make a first-tier country.

The United Nations Security Council, with a decisive role in the maintenance of international peace and security, represents the world's power group. Therefore, permanent Security Council members such as the United States, China and Russia, which have the power to veto any resolution, should be considered first-tier countries. And despite Abe's vision of Japan being a first-tier country, it will remain in the second tier.

Japan cannot absolve itself of the grievous crime of invading other Asian countries in the last century on the pretext of liberating them from Western imperialists. It launched a horrifying and unprecedented cycle of killings, torture and oppression in the occupied countries. And it attacked the Pearl Harbor in Hawaii for fear of losing its source of natural resources supply after the US imposed an oil embargo on it and to buy time to further its expansionist policy in Asia. It inflicted damage on the occupied countries and their people, well above and beyond what Western imperialists did.

Japan paid the price for these atrocities when the US bombed Tokyo and dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ultimately led to its surrender in World War II. After the war, Japan was occupied by US-led Allied forces and forced to give up the territories it had occupied overseas. But for years, Japanese rightist forces have been trying to whitewash the country's militarist past.

Japan never was a tier-one power even during its militarist era and will never be able to become one if it keeps denying its war crimes and occupying islands that it forcibly captured from other countries during its expansionist phase. Japan has been seeking a permanent seat in the Security Council for years without success, because there can never be a place for a country that refuses to face up to history and apologize for its actions on such an important global platform.

Besides, a country that kowtows to its tier-one ally will never be considered an equal. The US-Japan military alliance is based on a rather unequal relationship. Japan's constitution was largely drafted and imposed by the US occupation forces after World War II, and even today, the US has a military presence in Japan. More than once, American troops stationed in Japan have been involved in sexual assault, rape and other serious criminal cases but have got away scot-free because they enjoy extraterritorial rights under the Status of Forces Agreement.

As a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Japan is obliged to not acquire or make nuclear weapons. Though Japan claims to have a policy of non-possession, non-production and non-introduction of nuclear weapons, in reality even US military officers stationed in Japan cannot guarantee that it does not possess any nuclear weapons. The Japanese government has even acknowledged the existence of a secret nuclear arms deal signed in the 1960s, which allows nuclear weapons to be kept at the US bases in Japan for emergency.

After sweeping to power in 2009, Yukio Hatoyama, then leader of the center-left Democratic Party of Japan, declared that Japan needed to make itself an equal partner in its alliance with the US. Three years later, in a rare comeback to Japan's top job, Abe vowed to put US-Japan ties "back on track", meaning Japan will continue to revolve in the US orbit.

Today, Japan issues warnings to countries such as China and the Republic of Korea over islands disputes, which have their origin in Japan's past expansionist policy, and tries to get the US' military support. Violating the agreement reached with China on shelving the islands dispute to work on future relations, Japan announced last year that it would "purchase" and "nationalize" the Diaoyu Islands, severely damaging Sino-Japanese relations.

In a bitter row with Beijing, Tokyo has drawn in Washington to insist that the Diaoyu Islands fall within the purview of the Japan-US security treaty, forcing the US to take its side. But the US has maintained caution over the China-Japan islands dispute, and during his visit to the US, Abe failed to secure explicit support from Washington on the dispute. Later reports, however, said that US President Barack Obama did make some promise during his closed-door meeting with Abe.

Since Abe is an astute politician, he is likely to have assured the US that he would not do anything to heighten tensions with China, But instead of daydreaming of making Japan a tier-one country but kowtowing to the US, Abe should help ease regional tensions and make sincere efforts to start dialogue with China.

The author is a professor and director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

(China Daily 03/04/2013 page9)